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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Rick James' Estate Follows Eminem's Lead, Sues UMG Records for "Cheating Artists"

Posted By on Tue, Apr 5, 2011 at 12:22 PM

click to enlarge Worth every penny
  • Worth every penny

Universal Music Group is back in court after a new class-action lawsuit states that the record-label company is ignoring a court order and refusing to pay its artists royalties as owed.

The estate of R&B artist Rick James is suing UMG, claiming that the music-recording company is continuing to cheat artists our of "tens of millions of dollars" every year by selling digital downloads and ringtones, but only giving them a fraction of revenue from the sales.

James, a popular Motown star who made it to the top of the charts with his hit songs like "Superfreak," died in 2004 from cardiac failure.

The class-action case is unusual in that the Ninth Court of Appeals already ruled last week that the UMG must begin treating digital music as a license, which would mean artists would get millions more in royalties. The ruling came after Eminem, whose legal name is Marshall Mathers, sued UMG when the company refused to pay him royalties for his music that sold online.

Under the rap star's music contract, he's guaranteed 50 percent of all royalties but only 12 percent of all "sales," according to The New York Times. UMG argued that digital music was a sale, not a license, yet the court ruled otherwise.

The Supreme Court refused to hear the case, and instead left it to the lower court to decide.

The James suit points out that UMG is "blowing off" the court's decision, and is continuing to pay only one-third -- or less -- than what they are owed.

UMG continues to justify the underpayment with

the "pretext" that its ringtone and download agreements are not license

agreements, but are "resale agreements, which are "indistinguishable from those

UMG has with brick-and-mortar stores that sell its CDs," the claim states.

UMG insists that the court's decision sets no legal precedent, and it has no intention of altering its policies.

And in James' own words -- that's just cold-blooded.

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About The Author

Erin Sherbert

Erin Sherbert

Erin Sherbert was the Online News Editor for SF Weekly from 2010 to 2015. She's a Texas native and has a closet full of cowboy boots to prove it.


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