Baby Driver has been a commercial smash. Writer-director Edgar Wright’s film has also led to talk how it might rewrite the rules of soundtracks in Hollywood. But according to a copyright lawsuit filed Thursday, Sony Pictures and other producers failed to clear the use of the T.Rex song “Debora.”
The lawsuit comes from Rolan Feld, the son of the band’s frontman Marc Bolan.
Three years ago, Feld brought a lawsuit to reclaim his father’s works. He aimed to leverage an old rule vesting rights to an author’s heirs when the author dies during the intial copyright term. Marc Bolan died in 1977 in a car accident. His son was still an infant when this happened, but decades later, he looked to obtain ownership. And he was successful. A 2014 settlement gave Feld the rights to 144 works.
Now, he’s on a new legal war path against Sony, Media Rights Capital, Bambino Films and others behind Baby Driver.
“Inexplicably, Defendants failed to obtain — or even seek — the permission of the composition’s U.S. copyright holder Rolan Feld,” states the complaint (read here). “In the six weeks since Feld brought this infringement to Defendant Sony’s attention, Defendants have done little more than point fingers at one another — and they have neither apologized nor offered to pay Feld a reasonable license fee.”
Feld says he learned of the use of “Debora” when a representative of Sony Music contacted his lawyer requesting a license for the movie’s soundtrack.
“In other words, at least one division of Sony had no trouble determining Plaintiff was the rightful owner of the U.S. copyright in the composition,” continues the complaint. “Plaintiff promptly informed Defendants (through communications with Sony) that the use of the Composition in the Film was unauthorized.”
According to the plaintiff, Sony then responded with “conflicting explanations,” blaming other parties (sources suggest MRC) and requesting more time to investigate. But Feld says Sony has now ceased communications.
Represented by attorney David Erikson, Feld is seeking disgorgement of profits and punitive damages. He’s suggesting the use of the song has damaged opportunities to issue synch licenses in the future. He’s also demanding an order that Sony be permanently enjoined from engaging in improper exploitation.
Sony hasn’t yet responded to a request for comment.
The filmmakers made a big deal about the lengths gone to clear music. For instance, in one interview, Wright said, “Even before the movie was at Sony, we had sort of quietly started clearing the tracks. Because, you know, if you’re going to do a movie called Baby Driver and try and use that song, you should approach them way ahead of time to make sure that that’s okay. You don’t want to be in a situation where you’ve made the movie and Simon & Garfunkel are saying, ‘Come on, pay up. We know you want this.’”