Lawsuit seeks millions from Canadian labels

Chet Baker's estate launches suit, seeking class action status

TORONTO -- A lawsuit seeking class action status launched by the estate of jazz musician Chet Baker against Canadian major labels and publishers is seeking damages for unpaid royalties. The claim could reach CAN$6 billion ($5.7 billion) for 300,000 works by affected artists in Canada, as alleged by the lawsuit.

The suit, which has not been given class action status, alleges there are 300,000 songs that have not been paid appropriate royalties by Canada's four major labels -- EMI, Warner, Universal and Sony -- and argues that they are owed statutory damages of $20,000 Canadian ($18,900) per song under Canada's copyright laws.

The unpaid royalties come from the "unpaid list," according to the suit filed at the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, which is "over 300,000 works for which no license has been obtained and no compensation has been paid."

"According to the defendant record companies, the lists reflect liabilities for unpaid royalties in excess of $50 million ($47.2 million)," the suit states. It adds that the plaintiffs do "not accept" this estimation of the amount owing.

The suit asks for the major labels to pay "punitive and exemplary damages for their reckless, high-handed and arrogant conduct aggravated by their clandestine disregard for the copyright interests of the class members."

The filing, which was made in October 2008, was not publicized at the time of filing. Initially the Canadian Musical Reproduction Rights Agency and Society for Reproduction Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers were also named in the suit. According to sources, the publishers were removed after negotiations that resulted in CMRAA president David Basskin filing an affidavit in support of the case.

Graham Henderson, president of the Canadian Recording Industry Assn., did not respond to requests for comment.