Legal Drama

Sony Pays $8 Million to Settle Digital Music Class Action Lawsuit


AML American artists and industry folk, here is news worth paying attention to. For AML African artists and labels, there is a lot of free unauthorized digital downloads and online streaming of music that, technically, you should get paid for. Right now, however, many are focused on just building the industry so you don’t see these legal battles, yet. However, the hot button and litigious issues will certainly center around digital distribution in the nearest future. You all should also pay attention to the case below.

The list of musicians suing major record labels over digital music revenue has grown during the past few months. At issue in these cases is what musicians should get when a customer on a digital outlet like iTunes buys a song or album. Soon, in a breakthrough case involving Eminem’s producers, a trial will be held to determine what damages look like when a court has determined that digital downloads should be treated as a “license” instead of a “sale,” as many musicians argue is proper.

In the meantime, one case has just settled. It’s actually one of the oldest cases on this front, a five-year battle between Sony BMG and musicians including The Allman Brothers, Cheap Trick, and The Youngbloods. Here’s the details on Sony’s deal.

The attorney for the class of musicians revealed the settlement in a filing Wednesday. According to the plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary approval of the settlement — necessary and by no means guaranteed — Sony will pay its recording artists (and the lawyers) a total $7.95 million to resolve outstanding claims in the case. The deal also provides for a 3 percent bump in artists’ royalty rates with respect to digital income.

A substantial portion of the pot, if approved, will go to artists who had at least 28,500 total downloads off of Apple’s iTunes. The lawyers will take home more than $2.5 million of the settlement money. A small fraction has been set aside for artists whose download levels weren’t very significant.

Perhaps most crucial is who will be eligible to make a claim on the money. Class members include many older musicians whose contracts were signed between 1976 and 2001, include clauses where 50 percent of net revenue is shared from licensed music, don’t cap net receipts paid, don’t include express rates for digital exploitation and were not later modified to entail digital exploitation.

Is it a fair deal? Hard to say, but the plaintiffs in the case originally requested at least $25 million in damages and pointed out that artists such as The Youngbloods were getting 4.7 cents for a 99 cent download when the plaintiffs believed it should be in excess of 30 cents. The types of artists eligible to make claims and the 3 percent royalty bump for the bigger artists also will guide the fairness calculus. . .” – THR, Esq. has the full story.

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Credited for several firsts in the fashion and entertainment industry, Uduak Oduok (Ms. Uduak) is a fashion and entertainment lawyer, speaker, visionary, gamechanger, trailblazer, and recognized thought leader, for her work on Africa’s emerging global fashion and entertainment markets, and the niche practice of fashion law in the United States. She is also the founder of ‘Africa Music Law,’ an industry go-to music business and law blog and podcast show empowering African artists. Her work in the creative and legal industries has earned her numerous awards and recognitions, including an award from the American University Washington College of Law for her “legal impact in the field of intellectual property in Africa." She has also taught as an Adjunct Professor at several institutions in the United States. For more information, visit her at

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