Artist News Business News Digital Digital Royalties Timeline Labels & Publishers Legal

Quincy Jones lawsuit to include sales v licence debate, delays court date

By | Published on Monday 10 October 2016

Michael Jackson

A court hearing set to consider Quincy Jones’s legal dispute with Sony Music and MJJ Productions over various posthumous Michael Jackson releases, which was due to kick off tomorrow, has been postponed because of technicalities around legal representation.

As previously reported, Jones sued the two companies, the latter of which is controlled by the late king of pop’s estate, in 2013. The legendary producer, who worked on a number of Jackson’s most famous hits of course, had various grievances about how the singer’s catalogue had been exploited posthumously, reckoning that old agreements he had with one or the other of the two companies had been breached, while new deals had been structured to reduce any royalty obligations to him.

The dispute has been quietly working its way through the system ever since, with the judge overseeing the case, Michael Stern, denying a summary judgement in Sony and MJJ’s favour earlier this year. An initial court date was then set for June, only to be pushed back to this week, before the latest delay was revealed.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, the latest issue is that the good old fashioned sales v licence debate has become a key element of the dispute. That, of course, relates to whether artists on legacy contracts should be paid the lower ‘sales’ royalty or higher ‘licence’ royalty on digital income. Labels have mainly argued that downloads (and streams for that matter) are the digital equivalent of sales so the lower royalty applies, while artists point out digital income stems from licensing deals with the download stores and streaming platforms.

This debate has been had for years now in the music industry, and is a key element of the ongoing legal dispute between Sony and 19 Entertainment, in that regard in relation to streaming income. Jones’s lawsuit, though, is still quibbling about how download income is treated. A report submitted to court by the producer’s side in August seemingly focuses on the sales v licence issue in some detail.

This has apparently created an issue because to date Sony and MJJ have had the same legal representation in this lawsuit. But when it comes to what rate Sony should be paying on the digital exploitation of Jackson’s recordings catalogue, if it is underpaying Jones then it is underpaying MJJ Productions too. So it seems unwise for both parties to have the same attorneys on this particular issue.

So, now Sony needs more time to hire new lawyers. How much time is as yet unclear, though if and when this does all get to court it will once again put the spotlight on how heritage artists are paid on digital income.