• The Hollywood Reporter on LinkedIn
  • Follow THR on Pinterest
JAN
6
3 YEARS

EXCLUSIVE: 'Chipmunks' Owner Sues EMI Over High-Pitched Music

Alivin and The Chipmunks
Fox 2000 Pictures

Those adorable, annoying, uber-litigious Chipmunks are at it again.

Bagdasarian Prods, owner of the Alvin and the Chipmunks franchise, is suing EMI Music for allegedly failing to pay appropriate royalties on a boxed set of Chipmunks music featuring 24 songs.

The Chipmunks were created in 1958 by Ross Bagdasarian, Sr., and became an instant success -- perhaps the best-selling gimmick in entertainment history. By taking his own voice and speeding it up to a high pitch, Bagdasarian was able to create several chart-toppers, grabbing a Grammy nomination for record of the year for "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)," as well as Grammy wins for engineering. The novelty was later translated into animated TV shows, hit feature films and, coming later this year, Chipmunks in 3D.

The franchise now resides with Ross Bagdasarian, Jr., who has not been afraid to sue his Hollywood partners. Last year, for instance, he filed a massive lawsuit against 20th Century Fox for half of the profits on The Squeakquel, which grossed more than $200 million in theaters. (The dispute is still pending and was recently appealed up to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to determine whether it should be adjudicated in district court or by arbitration.)

Now it's EMI's turn to experience the sounds of a high-pitched lawsuit.

In a complaint filed last week in U.S District Court in California, Bagdasarian demands damages for breach of contract and copyright infringement. Considering that 24 songs are alleged to be infringed, each possibly subject to statutory damages of up to $150,000, that's potentially $3.6 million over songs including "America the Beautiful," "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star," and "On Top of Old Smokey."

The terms of the mechanical license allegedly require EMI to pay Bagdasarian about 9 cents per musical composition reproduced or distributed whether or not sold, or 1.75 cents per minute of playing time for each musical composition. Bagdasarian says that a recent audit conducted revealed that EMI owed royalties.

A spokesperson from EMI wasn't available immediately to respond.