Elvis Presley Estate Suffers Setbacks in Royalty Fight

A German court denies an attempt to claim a bigger share, and an American court won't order Sony Music to hand over more accounting information.
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Elvis Presley Enterprises can't get a New York judge to order Sony Music to produce more information about the royalties it receives from recordings by the King.

In December, Presley's estate pushed for accounting records in the midst of a years-long battle happening in Germany. The underlying dispute pertains to the $5.4 million buyout deal that Presley and his manager  "Colonel" Tom Parker reached with Sony's RCA back in 1974. Four decades after making the agreement, Presley's heirs (backed by private equity money) pointed to extensions of the copyright term and sought "equitable remuneration" under German law from Sony affiliate and RCA successor Arista. For more on the background of the case and the economics at stake, see here.

Not long after EPE made its discovery demand in New York, a German court dismissed the "equitable remuneration" claims. The dispute is going on appeal there for a second time.

On March 1, however, U.S. District Court judge Denise Cote decided to reject the EPE's attempt to find out more information from Sony for potentially more clues about revenues enjoyed by Arista's parent company.

In her decision, she notes that "a German court could require Arista to produce the very information that EPE seeks," and responding to EPE's argument that the rules of discovery in the foreign court are narrower, only permitting further discovery upon inaccurate or incomplete information, she writes, "While this may be true, EPE has not identified why it believes Arista’s production was incomplete or inaccurate. Indeed, this argument suggests that Arista’s document production complied ... and that EPE’s desire to obtain further information rests solely on speculation."

Cote also doesn't like that EPE waited so long to make a discovery request and that the "procedural posture of the German litigation" — that EPE's claim has been dismissed — bears against giving it what it wants.

In short, Presley might have undersold his future revenue stream in the 1970s, but unless a German appeals court changes the status quo, it appears as though his heirs are stuck.

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