Lester Chambers, Successful Musician Who Received No Royalties From '67 To '94, Planning To Sue

from the this-could-get-interesting dept

A week or so ago, a whole bunch of folks started submitting variations on the story of Lester Chambers, of the successful Chambers Brothers band, for the dramatic photo he posted to Facebook explaining how he didn’t receive any royalties for decades.

To be honest, we’ve seen so many stories like this that I wasn’t even sure it was worth posting. Contrary to what some of our critics insist, I don’t seek out every anti-record label story out there. But where this gets interesting is that in that interview with Vice (linked above), he indicates that he’s planning to sue over this:

Was it a spur of the moment decision on your part to post the letter?

No, no, no. My friends and my son, we’ve been working on this for the past eight or nine years. We have all the contracts, all the record labels, all of that information together. It’s a good time because of Occupy. My wife is a paralegal, so she’s been able to do a great job preparing all of the paperwork.

So you’re going to sue them directly? This isn’t just a press campaign?

We’re gonna correct our situation.

Do you think you’ll succeed?

I hope so. I’m gonna do it for every musician who’s been treated the way I have.

Major labels playing RIAA accounting tricks are nothing new, but you rarely see lawsuits over it. Yes, there have been some cases recently — such as Kenny Rogers’ lawsuit — but those are usually more focused on the question of whether or not iTunes revenue is counted as a sale (small royalty) or a license (big royalty). Some of those are uncovering other accounting irregularities in the process, but a lawsuit focused on lack of royalty payments could get more interesting. We’ve seen how musicians have discovered that the royalty statements that the major labels keep on them are more or less works of fiction, but it would be interesting to see such accounting practices directly challenged in court.

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Comments on “Lester Chambers, Successful Musician Who Received No Royalties From '67 To '94, Planning To Sue”

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Anonymous Coward says:

This is ridiculous, as if it’s not bad enough that the labels are already in trouble due to losing enormous amounts of imaginary money due to piracy, now these bloody so called musicians want to break them entirely by insisting that they ought to actually be paid.

We need new laws now to protect labels from this kind of entitlement attitude that has so infected the general public.

Karl (profile) says:

Re: Re: Hmmm

Copyright is the lifetime of the person + 70-90 years, so…

Yes, yes he can.

Some minor points.

Copyright lasts for the lifetime of the author plus 70 years.

It only lasts longer if it is a work for hire, or if the author is unknown. In that case, it lasts for 95 years from publication (or 120 years from creation, whichever comes first).

Also, I think Mike42 was talking about the termination rights granted under 17 USC 203. Unfortunately, termination rights only apply to contracts signed after 1978.

Here’s something weird. If Chambers died during the initial 28-year copyright term (i.e. before 1995), then his widow or children would legally get the rights to the renewed terms (another 67 years). In that case, they would have the right to terminate the contract.

It’s an odd day when Chambers has a better chance of being treated fairly when he’s dead, but that’s copyright for ya.

Josef Anvil (profile) says:


I just had to go back and grab a comment from another article today.

“I won’t claim that the MPAA doesn’t act in its own interest and I won’t claim that they don’t lobby to help the movie industry. But you’re being willfully foolish if you think that the anti-SOPA campaign was truly grassroots. I’m sure that 99% still think that it was about censorship– a truly nasty spin given that, if anything, it’s about enabling the quiet censorship of artists by preventing them from profiting on their hard work.

There was plenty of astroturfing by Big Search, Big Piracy and Big Hardware. They were out in force and in many cases they pretended that the lobbying was all a charity.

This is a sumo match between the billionaires in Silicon Valley and the multimillionaires in Hollywood. It has little to do with censorship and everything to do with whether or not the artists can make a living off of their hard work. Big Search, Big Piracy and Big Hardware want to keep all of the revenues for themselves.”

So this guy thinks Big Tech is out to starve artists like Lester?

I think he has it all wrong. Big Content is out to prevent artists from profitting from their work.

I hope the guy that posted that silly comment responds to this.

[citation needed or GTFO] says:

Re: Re: Juxtaposition

Maybe someone who has some free time should compile all of his comments together, save it as a text file and upload it to a file-sharing site (No! Not a file-sharing site!) so we all have a transcript that we can pick and choose quotes and rightfully say “But that’s not what you said! Now you’re saying this now?”

Worst part about non-registering ACs (like myself and what’s-his-name) is that we don’t have that option already done for us.

[citation needed or GTFO] says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Juxtaposition

So far I’ve only been able to come up with four repeating arguments they spout out. I’ll list them with the buzz words that tend to elicit their troll-speak:

-Anything to do with copyright: “Piracy”
-Anything that benefits consumers: “Freetards”
-Business models removing gatekeepers: “Techdirtbags”
-Google or anything related to technology: “Masnick”

Anyone else want to FTFM?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Juxtaposition

And when big tech eventually wins in killing off big content, do you REALLY think they aren’t gonna pull the same shit? I don’t see big tech being “fair” by giving the lion’s share to the artists…because a company still wants big money if you ask me. Good thing platforms like bandcamp actually do take just 10-15% to continue running their site.

:Lobo Santo (profile) says:

Re: Re: Juxtaposition

Yes, I’m certain the egregious 5% or 10% (30% if you’re Apple) which Amazon & Google takes off the top–after hosting the content AND handling all the payment processing AND providing a web-side storefront will continue for many years after “Big Content” has died away.

Damn shame how horribly unfair these tech companies are to musicians and others…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Juxtaposition

Right now you should see how the tech giants treat their employees and how the entertainment industry treat theirs, those are worlds apart.

Even evil Microsoft do a better job and has created more millionaires than any other company out there.

So yah, they could scheme some people but I bet it would be an improvement over the current overlords that artists have to endure 🙂

Lawrence D'Oliveiro says:

Re: Re: Juxtaposition

>I don’t see big tech being “fair” by giving the lion’s
>share to the artists…

Fine. Show us an example of one of these ?big tech? companies signing artists to exclusive distribution deals, promising them royalties, and then charging them expenses for promotional items, etc?the rights to all of which somehow still remain with those ?big tech? companies. Show us these ?big tech? companies lobbying the politicians to force everybody else to be guardians of their ?intellectual property? for them, so that people can be deprived of a basic human right just based on unfounded accusations without evidence. Show us these ?big tech? companies quoting completely ludicrous numbers for monetary and job losses as a result of perfectly legitimate competition from new industry players.

Because if you can?t do any of this, then how can we tell whether those words are coming out of your mouth or your other end?

Of course all corporations are amoral, and their actions are going to reveal this at some point?Google included. But just because some of them currently happen to agree with your side, doesn?t mean your side is wrong.

gorehound (profile) says:

Time has come today
Young hearts can go their way
Can’t put it off another day
I don’t care what others say
They say we don’t listen anyway
Time has come today

The rules have changed today (Hey)
I have no place to stay (Hey)
I’m thinking about the subway (Hey)
My love has flown away (Hey)
My tears have come and gone (Hey)
Oh my Lord, I have to roam (Hey)
I have no home (Hey)
I have no home (Hey)

Now the time has come (Time)
There’s no place to run (Time)
I might get burned up by the sun (Time)
But I had my fun (Time)
I’ve been loved and put aside (Time)
I’ve been crushed by the tumbling tide (Time)
And my soul has been psychedelicized (Time)

AWESOME ARTIST !!! I owned a few of their LP’s when they had come out on vinyl in the 60’s and still like listening to The Chamber Brothers.See if you can find an mp3 of the original demo version of the song time has come today.Great 1960’s garagey punk like tune.the final version from the 45 and the LP were both more produced but that old raw version really shines.
Musicians lose more money due to the labels/RIAA than Piracy ever.WE Musicians need more protection against them than we need from downloaders.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

However the flip side of that coin is that…

1. A class action lawsuit judgement would set an important legal precedent for other future actions.

2. It could be very expensive for the labels even if the lawyers are the only ones that get any of the money out of it making it a poor business decision to continue the practice in the future.

So although it may not significantly directly benefit the artists monetarily, I wouldn’t say that it wouldn’t be a significant “win” for them in the long run.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Funny you mention Enron. The approach seems fair. Enron cheated the people they were supposed to pay and used “creative accounting” techniques in an attempt to cover it up. Enron was investigated. The executives responsible were indicted, tried, convicted, and sent to jail.

Let’s see a DOJ investigation of the major record labels the same way.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Response to: Anonymous Coward on Mar 15th, 2012 @ 2:18pm

“Bad” isn’t the appropriate word here. Bad implies they were sloppy and incompetent which is far from the case. Corrupt and intentionally dishonest with the purpose of covering up illegal activity for their own benefit is more like it just like the record labels.

Anonymous Coward says:

Even though I believe copyright is the dumbest law ever and should never have existed(ok that is an exaggeration there was a time and place for it, but that time and place is gone now) and if it didn’t that artist right there could have take charge of his own work without fearing being excluded and I take a dim view of people who try to enforce granted monopolies, I must admit that I’m rooting for those fellows there, it is the law after all and those record labels should have known better than to cheat others.

Anonymous Coward says:

Anybody want to see an old school sci-fi for free?


The New Kind project is being spearheaded by visual effects hot shots whose resumes include Star Wars, Avatar and Hugo. These moonlighting pros are sharing their expertise with 200 anime enthusiasts to produce a crowdsourced labor of love made possible because the cost of CGI animation tools has dropped several hundred thousand dollars in the past few years.

?Somebody in Malaysia or Greece who lives in their mom?s basement can now create visual effects with a $2,000 computer and a $3,000 software license that?s on par, or even superior to, what you would have seen in Jurassic Park,? New Kind creator Peter Hyoguchi said in a phone interview with Wired. ?If you know how to find them, there?s a glut of visual effects artists out there.?


Those people are working for free and if it is successful they hopefully get a cut of the entire thing, now that seems more attractive than to give up all your royalties and not get paid and have to sue after 20 years.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

A simple misunderstanding?

Look, I’m not saying this is for sure how it happened, or even that it’s likely, but maybe this is all a misunderstanding. Maybe the major labels were sitting around sipping liquid gold and fondeling each other one day and some hippie activist ran by and shouted “Somebody think of the starving artists!” and the labels misheard him, thinking he shouted “Somebody think of starving the artists!” and said, “shit, we could do that!”.

I’m just saying maybe….

non-anonymous coward says:

This is God

This is your Lord speaking.

I declare that pirating music is no longer a sin, as long as you donate to a group like Sweet Relief that directly aids musicians. Know that the RIAA and their minions will face my wrath for these acts (vengeance is mine after all).

Of course, IANAL, so consult a professional before downloading.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Well, as an example, let’s say the contract is for him and the other band members, and specifically states that payments are to be made to Company X Holdings instead of the individuals. Essentially, he has signed his rights away to another company. Then it’s only his contract with Company X Holdings that would decide if he got paid or not.

There could also be an agreement where the money is paid to “the band” (business entity) which then pays it’s members.

Also, at any time, he could enter into a contract on a personal level with the record company, and then enter into a second contract where he transfers or sells his rights under the contract to a third party. A great example would be the David Bowie offerings, where he effectively sold off his rights to his contracted earnings. It’s not quite that simple in practice, but it is the general idea.

That it took this guy 30 years to wake up and realize that he wasn’t paid goes a long way to suggesting that he probably isn’t due anything to start with – at least not from the record labels.

The Devil's Coachman (profile) says:

If the RIAA thought there was a profit in it for them, they would suck tapeworms out of a syphilitic donkey’s colon using their children’s’ mouths, but they find it is much easier to suck all the money and blood out of the performers who actually were so deluded they thought they would be treated fairly. The current executive crop at the RIAA needs to die in a fire, and their apologists and shills used as the kindling. Their offspring should be the ones made to light the first match. But I don’t mean that in a bad way.

Jose_X (profile) says:

Copyrights and loads of money: what many musicians really value?

>> Why didn’t you cross your Ts and dot your Is a bit more before you signed?

>> When you’re a young group, you listen to people say: “We’re going to make it better.” And that never works, because if they were going to make it better they woulda made it better. Young musicians are still caught in the same situation ‘cos they wanna be heard.

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