Producer Sues Sony Music Over Revenue From Journey Songs

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Formed in San Francisco in 1973, Journey has become one of the iconic band fo the modern era, thanks in no small part to the song "Don't Stop Believin'," which is also a staple of the karaoke circuit.

Rock music producer Roy Thomas Baker has filed a federal lawsuit in New York against Sony Music Entertainment, alleging the record label owes significant royalties including at least $1 million in compensatory damages for his work on 21 Journey songs. The plaintiff follows others in the industry suing over money from digital downloads and the way revenue gets accounted.

During the past few years, many musicians have brought claims against major labels for treating digital music as "sales" instead of "licenses" and thus paying a lower royalty rate.

In March, Sony settled a class-action lawsuit by agreeing to pay $8 million in damages as well as a small percentage bump in artists' royalty rates with respect to digital income. All Sony artists were covered by the settlement, but they were given the opportunity to expressly opt out of the deal.

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Baker, who been a producer for Guns N' Roses, Cheap Trick, Foreigner, Ozzy Osbourne and produced Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," is one who has chosen to do just that. He says in his lawsuit that the proposed settlement "is wholly insufficient to make plaintiff whole."

So he's now being represented by Richard Busch of King & Ballow, who just so happens to be one of the lawyers representing the Bass Brothers (FBT), the producers who worked on many Eminem hits.

Recently, in that lawsuit against Universal Music, FBT was given the opportunity to amend the suit to attack the way that a big music conglomerate like Universal apportions revenue between its foreign and domestic divisions before sharing the proceeds with revenue participants. The judge in the case slammed Universal for attempting to hide the issue.

Why does this matter for the new Baker case?

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In the lawsuit, Baker accuses Sony of similar accounting trickery over Journey songs including "Feeling That Way," "Wheel in the Sky," "Anytime" and "Just the Same Way."

The plaintiff says Sony should be paying him half of its net receipts from leasing the 21 songs and also takes issue with certain deductions and revenue from foreign sales. Baker says Sony "intentionally concealed its failure to apply the correct royalty rate by failing to disclose" the royalty rate used when making calculations. Certain international territories purportedly had higher royalty rates, but Sony is alleged to use one basic 3 percent rate, blaming it on the "over-linking" of accounts.

The issue of how to account for digital downloads, in other words, has become part and parcel for some artists over a related issue tied to where money is moving within a corporate structure.

Baker says an initial audit of Sony books turned up $475,000 in royalties allegedly underreported, and he estimates that more could be owed. But he adds, "There was no way for plaintiff to know of this fraud by Sony because of its concealment, and plaintiff reasonably relied to his detriment."

Sony had no comment.


Twitter: @eriqgardner