June 27, 2011 10:10am PT by Eriq Gardner
'Chipmunks' Owner Suing Over 'Chipmunks' Tribute Album (Exclusive)
Bagdasarian Prods, owner of the Alvin and the Chipmunks franchise, is suing the producers of an "artistically inferior knockoff" Chipmunks tribute album on iTunes, Amazon.com and other digital stores.
The squeaky lawsuit, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in California, is the latest move by the litigious Bagdasarian family.
The Chipmunks were the creation of Ross Bagdasarian, Sr., who in 1958 had the bright idea of recording his own voice and speeding it up. He made a Grammy-winning chart-topper, "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)," and followed it up with an animated TV show, hit feature films, and albums full of hit pop songs done at high speeds. The franchise has made more than $1 billion.
The concept of high-pitched songs never seems to tire and might seem simple enough for anybody to do.
In their latest lawsuit, Bagdasarian Prods. (now controlled by Ross Jr.) claims the Jerry Naylor Company distributed a digital album entitled "A Tribute to Alvin and the Chipmonks," that uses a nearly identical set of songs to past Chipmunks hits, including "The Chipmunk Song," "Funkytown" and "Mess Around."
The fact that the defendant spelled Chipmonks with an "o" and is re-recording past hits from Ray Charles and the Lips, among others, isn't enough to escape Bagdasarian attention. The plaintiffs claim the "knockoff"/tribute infringes its trademarks and is likely to confuse the public on its source of origin.
Bagdasarian is seeking more than $1 million in believed damages and an injunction.
Bagdasarian Prods. is currently in the midst of other court fights. Last year, the company sued 20th Century Fox, claiming it was owed "half of all profits" over the megahit Squeakquel film. A federal judge's order to send the dispute to arbitration is now on appeal up to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Earlier this year, Bagdasarian also sued EMI Music for allegedly failing to pay appropriate royalties on a boxed set of Chipmunks music. An amended complaint was just filed in the case and EMI is set to respond soon.