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Soundgarden hit back at Chris Cornell’s widow in dispute over masters

By | Published on Wednesday 5 February 2020


Soundgarden have hit back at the lawsuit filed by the widow of their late frontman Chris Cornell. Stating in a new legal filing that they “categorically deny every material contention lobbed against them”, the band want Vicky Cornell’s litigation dismissed or, at least, moved to another court.

Vicky Cornell went legal in the Florida District Court in Miami last year. She claims that the other members of Soundgarden have been withholding royalties and making false statements in a bid to force her to hand over seven recordings of new songs that her late husband made before his death in 2017.

The band want to turn those recordings into a new Soundgarden album. Cornell says that she supports that plan. However, only on the condition that she has a role in choosing the producer who works on the project and in planning any subsequent marketing, so that she can ensure the new record release “respects her late husband’s legacy and wishes”.

At the heart of the dispute is who owns the copyright in those recordings. The band say that they were all collaborating on the new material, so the masters belong to the band’s partnership company. Cornell argues that her late husband mainly worked alone on the tracks and therefore the rights sit with his estate.

In her lawsuit, Cornell also accused Soundgarden and their business manager Rit Venerus of resorting to “strong-arm tactics” to force her to hand over the recordings. This included, she said, “withholding royalties undeniably owed to Chris’s estate” and “on which Chris’s three surviving children are dependent”, and also suggesting in media interviews that she is blocking a new Soundgarden album.

However, in their new legal filing the band say that Cornell is wrong about both the rights ownership and the withheld royalties. “Vicky Cornell is not the owner of the recordings at issue, which are provably Soundgarden’s and intended for a new Soundgarden album” they state.

“This is easily provable by abundant evidence”, they add, “including emails between the band members (including Cornell) exchanging audio files and lyrics, file metadata through Dropbox, and other tangible evidence such as full ‘live’ audio recordings of the band working on and performing the songs at its Seattle studios”.

Not only that, they say, “defendants even have evidence directly from Vicky Cornell, including an email from March 2017 in which she states that Chris is traveling for the ‘SG record'”. Therefore, “the album files were not exclusively ‘recorded’ by Cornell in Florida in 2017, nor were they ‘solely recorded’ by him”.

As for Cornell’s royalty payments, the band say that no members of Soundgarden have been receiving monies pending a band vote on what income should be distributed when. They write: “Vicky Cornell is entitled to distributions from the Soundgarden partnership for Cornell’s share of band revenues, but only on the vote of the partnership which has not taken place. There is no ‘conspiracy’ with the band’s financial manager”.

As well as disputing the allegations in Cornell’s lawsuit, the band also spend quite a bit of their legal filing arguing that the case – if it goes ahead – should not be heard in the Florida court where she chose to go legal. The band is based in Seattle, they argue, and most of the band’s operations happen there. They also claim that, while Vicky Cornell has a base in Florida, she seems to spend more of her time in New York.

It now remains to be seen how the court in Miami responds to the band’s requests.