How Sony Got Off Easy With Its 'Settlement' In Class Action Lawsuit By Underpaid Artists
from the class-actions-in-action dept
The case was originally brought back in 2006 by the Allman Brothers and Cheap Trick -- which we wrote about at the time. Both of those bands eventually settled, but by then the case had turned into a class action lawsuit for other Sony Music artists, with the Youngbloods and Elmo Shropshire (who has been involved in some other bizarre copyright lawsuits) taking the place as the named artists in the case. At issue, of course, is whether or not an iTunes transaction is a sale (tiny royalty payment) or a license (much bigger royalty payment). However, the settlement seems pretty paltry. Sony pays out $7.95 million, but as is so often the case in class action lawsuits, the lawyers get $2.65 million of that, leaving $5.3 million for all of the remaining qualified artists. As Digital Music News explains:
Of that $5.3 million, $5 million is reserved for artists who sold at least 28,500 total downloads on iTunes between the inception of iTunes on January 9, 2001 and December 31, 2010 including current class members Youngbloods and Shropshire. Qualifying members would split that $5.3 million pro rata to the number of downloads of their records. However, these two artists may ultimately receive a lot less than splitting the $5 million between themselves because any artist who was signed to Epic, Columbia or Arista Records who sold more than 28,500 is eligible to join the class if they entered into agreements dated between January 1, 1976 and December 31, 2001.It's... something. But considering how much was being dangled in previous estimates, it sure sounds like Sony may end up getting off on the cheap end if this settlement is completed. Oh, and in case you were wondering, Sony probably won't even have to pay out a chunk of this money because if any of the artists haven't recouped yet, this money will merely be "credited" towards their accounts. And considering how the labels aren't exactly known for keeping the best records as to who's actually recouped, there's plenty of room for Sony to keep the money and just claim it's crediting an account that will never surpass the red line.
According to a trusted source there may well be over 100 artists would qualify for membership. The balance of the money, only $300,000, is reserved for all Sony artists with fewer than 28,500 total downloads on iTunes.
The proposed settlement also provides for a prospective 3 percent bump in artists' royalty rates with respect to permanent digital downloads and ringtones sold in the US after January 1, 2011. The 3 percent is against Sony Music Entertainment's gross receipts. This amounts to 3 percent of 70 cents (the amount Sony received for 99 cent downloads) and that is only 2.1 cents.