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EMI and Chrysalis squabble over Beatles Rock Band royalties

By | Published on Monday 22 November 2010

According to the Daily Mail, EMI and Chrysalis could face off in court over whether George Martin is due his 1.5% producer royalty on The Beatles catalogue in relation to the Fab Four edition of video game ‘Rock Band’, released last year.

Music publisher Chrysalis represents record producer Martin’s copyrights, including the 1.5% record sales royalty he is due in relation to The Beatles albums he produced, a right stemming from a 1965 agreement. Said cut, although nominal in percentage terms, can mean big pay offs for Chrysalis whenever there is big Beatles push, such as last year’s album reissues and last week’s iTunes arrival. Chrysalis is also banking on a cut of the ‘Rock Band’ money which, experts say, could be worth about half a million by now.

However, it seems that EMI is arguing that its 1965 royalty agreement with Martin doesn’t apply in the case of the ‘Rock Band’ video game, because such a product does not come under the definition of ‘record’ in that contract. Needless to say, Chrysalis does not concur.

In a letter included in a High Court submission, seen by the Mail, EMI’s legal beagles claim “[The] concept of a music video game neither then existed nor could be said to be in the contemplation of the parties”, and therefore the royalty payment did not cover such things. But Chrysalis argues that is irrelevant because “it was plainly the parties’ intention that the 1965 agreement would extend to cover formats and technologies which had not then been invented or developed”.

Of course, it’s not the first dispute over what the word ‘record’ means in an old artist label contract, though normally the debate is as to whether the term should apply to downloads rather than video games. Although this case could be interesting if it reaches court, sources have told the Mail that the court filings are, in reality, a formality, and that an out of court settlement could still be reached on this one.