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Lawsuit Explores Who Owns Rights to a Stax Records Musical

One producer owns rights to the sound recordings while another producer enjoys rights to the compositions

Otis Redding 1967 - P 2014
AP Photo
Stax artist Otis Redding

Just last month, Concord Music Group announced that it was developing a Broadway musical about the iconic music label Stax Records, which launched the careers of such soul artists as Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes and Booker T. & the MG’s amid the racial tension of the civil rights era. Stuart Benjamin, the Academy Award-nominated producer of Ray, is co-developing the musical, and the plan is to launch by spring of 2016. Is it possible though that the producers lined up the wrong rights to make this happen?

That’s what a lawsuit filed by Tony DeRosa-Grund’s Evergreen Media in Connecticut federal court alleges.

Evergreen previously worked on the horror blockbuster The Conjuring and is currently waging a legal war with Warner Bros. over sequels. DeRosa-Grund hopes his next hit is the story of Stax Records, and to that end, he has made separate deals with Robert Gordon, author of Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion, as well as Universal Music subsidiary Rondor Music, which owns the publishing rights to the Stax music catalog.

Evergreen’s own Stax project is both a film and Broadway musical — and that’s why a competing Stax musical is causing a problem.

According to Evergreen’s lawsuit, Concord holds rights to Stax Records sound recordings, but not publishing rights to the song compositions. The irony here could be that to do a story about a particular record company, the rights once owned by that record company don’t suffice.

“Accordingly, Rondor — and not Concord — has the exclusive rights to license the publishing rights to said Compositions to third-parties and to otherwise use or exploit the Compositions for, among other things, legitimate stage production,” states the lawsuit.

Concord allegedly has known about this situation before announcing its plans. The lawsuit (read in full here) says that Concord had discussions with Rondor about a potential licensing arrangement before issuing a press release without an agreement. The press release came over Rondor’s admonishment.

As for damages, the plaintiff alleges that Concord’s “actions have scared away financial investors and made it virtually impossible for [Evergreen] to pursue the fruits of the Rondor-Evergreen Agreement.”

Despite the chain-of-title confusion, Evergreen is now going ahead with its own film while pursuing both Concord and Benjamin on allegations of tortious interference and unfair trade practices. The plaintiff is seeking declaratory relief on its rights as well as an injunction restraining Concord from exploiting publishing rights and interfering with the Evergreen-Rondor deal. The plaintiff is represented by attorneys Charles Grimes and Michael Patrick.

Concord tells THR, “The lawsuit is utterly without merit. Other than that, we have no comment.”

Although Concord may not hold publishing rights, its own grip on sound recordings aren’t worthless. Without a deal, Evergreen’s film won’t be able to feature the original recordings by Redding, Hayes and others. The plan is to re-record the songs anyway. From what we hear, Evergreen plans to find actors who can sing rather than lip-synch. DeRosa-Grund says he has “no interest in acquiring the rights to the masters.”

Email: Eriq.Gardner@THR.com
Twitter: @eriqgardner