How Sony Got Off Easy With Its 'Settlement' In Class Action Lawsuit By Underpaid Artists

from the class-actions-in-action dept

While Eminem’s producers got a ton of attention and a big ruling noting that the labels had incorrectly accounted for iTunes sales — leading to some back of the envelope calculations that artists might be owed around $2 billion in unpaid royalties from the major labels — the very first of these cases (which actually predates the Eminem case) has reached the “settlement” stage, with Sony Music offering all qualified artists a relatively tiny pool of money to split.

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.

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.

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.

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Companies: sony music

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Comments on “How Sony Got Off Easy With Its 'Settlement' In Class Action Lawsuit By Underpaid Artists”

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Hulser (profile) says:

Forget the artists, what about the affect on the consumer?

At issue, of course, is whether or not an iTunes transaction is a sale (tiny royalty payment) or a license (much bigger royalty payment).

What about the affect of this settlement on the consumer? Because this was settled instead of getting to an official verdict, we won’t have Sony going on the record as stating that iTunes transactions are really a sale (which would imply more privileges to the consumer) rather than a license (which gives Sony the wiggle room to change the terms after the transaction).

I still think that if you involve the courts, that the details of all settlements should be made public and should be accounted for (to at least some degree) in case law. If you don’t want to keep the dirty secrets of your settlement, then pay for arbitration or something and stop wasting taxpayer money by clogging up the courts.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

It is a self-inflicted injury. The artists, who were silly enough to sign up with Sony in the first place, have just discovered, yet again, that Sony is quite willing to screw them. The lawyers do well. Sony gets away with it with a slap on the wrist. The artists — not so good.

Younger artists, please note.

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