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The family of the writer of the 1970s hit “Fallin’ in Love” has won a significant jury verdict against a music publisher accused of failing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue.
Fredricka Hamilton, the widow of songwriter and musician Dan Hamilton, and her step-daughter Danielle Plancich sued music industry veteran Henry Marx and his Music Force publishing company in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. On Thursday a federal jury ruled unanimously that the Hamilton heirs should be awarded $562,317 in litigation stemming from the exploitation of the hit 1975 song.
As with many music cases, this one has a strange and complex backstory.
Dan Hamilton was a member of Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds, whose “Fallin’ in Love” reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1975. The song later was sampled by Drake for his breakout hit “Best I Ever Had” in 2009. (Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds had one other big hit with 1971’s “Don’t Pull Your Love.”)
“Fallin’ in Love” had been co-published by Spitfire Music, a company controlled by Hamilton’s then-manager Joel Cohen. Marx and his Music Force music publishing company later acquired the Hamilton catalog in the mid-’80s.
Hamilton had previously been married to Ann Wallace, who was credited as a co-writer of “Fallin’ in Love.” But issues apparently arose after his 1994 death from a blood disease as to whether she had been given credit and revenues merely as security for raising their child (and therefore was not entitled to renew the copyright in the song because she was not truly a co-writer). Wallace later sued the Hamilton estate for back child support. A settlement was reached in 1998 (allegedly brokered by Marx) that allowed Marx to collect 100 percent of revenue from the Hamilton catalog and designated that Marx had acquired the publishing interests of Spitfire.
But this apparently wasn’t correct because Spitfire continued to own a share of the publishing revenue, along with Rondor Music, a division of Universal Music Group, which had purchased a portion of the publishing. So Fredricka Hamilton and Plancich sued, claiming that these promises in the 1998 agreement were fraudulent. They also sued and settled with Cohen/Spitfire, UMG/Rondor and Wallace. As part of the settlement with Wallace, Hamilton obtained her right to pursue Marx for underpayment of revenue.
The lawsuit sought money Marx was said to have withheld from royalty payments, as well as money that Marx should have collected had he truly collected 100 percent of the revenue. The case went to trial in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, where Marx argued that any monies owed for underpayments were less than $5,000.
After a six-day trial, an eight-person jury unanimously agreed Thursday that Marx and Music Force had committed fraud and breach of contract. The plaintiffs were awarded $562,317. Additionally, the jury found that punitive damages were warranted. Arguments over what the final award should be will be heard by the jury on Sept. 26 in the courtroom of U.S. District Court Judge John Kronstadt.
Hamilton and Plancich are represented by Neville Johnson, and John Fowler of Johnson & Johnson in Beverly Hills. Marx is repped by Jessica Trotter of Glendale’s Wolk Levine & Trotter and Edward Lear of the Century Law Group of Los Angeles.
Johnson and Fowler declined to comment. Trotter did not respond to a request for comment.
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