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US courts side again with EMI in Duke Ellington dispute

By | Published on Friday 24 October 2014


A court in New York has denied the estate of Duke Ellington the right to reinstate a lawsuit against the EMI music publishing business which centred on a royalty dispute.

As previously reported, Ellington’s grandson went legal because local EMI subsidiaries were taking commissions off publishing royalties generated by the jazz great’s music before handing the money over to the major’s US division, which then pays the Ellington estate its cut.

Such a practice is pretty common in the music rights sector, but the lawsuit argued it was specifically forbidden in Ellington’s original 1961 contract with a US publisher subsequently acquired by EMI.

The lawsuit was first filed in 2010 and EMI prevailed, a court ruling that the term in Ellington’s contract regarding local subsidiary commissions only applied to international divisions that existed at the point the contract was signed.

Ellington’s grandson sought a second chance in court, with both sides presenting their arguments last month. But, while appeal judges were not unanimous on the matter, the majority concurred with the lower court’s interpretation of the 1960s contract.

As also previously reported, the widow of ‘Daydream Believer’ songwriter John Stewart also recently sued EMI Music Publishing – now controlled by Sony/ATV of course – about a very similar dispute. It remains to be seen how his legacy contract is interpreted in relation to this matter.