Pink's Producer Can't Recover Old Royalties

The singer and Sony Music prevail in a legal dispute over an administration error.
AP Images/Invision

Most everyone is familiar with the classic excuse, "It got lost in the mail."

For Harold Frasier's Specialists Entertainment, the excuse triggered a lawsuit against pop superstar Pink and Sony Music over royalties owed more than a decade ago. This week, Specialists struck out in its attempt to recover the money.

Specialists did work on two of the singer's songs, "Hiccup" and "Can't Take Me Home" from Pink's 2000 debut album Can't Take Me Home. There was another company, Thunderstone Productions, that also contributed to the songs. The royalties for the production work was supposed to be split equally between the two producers.

But Sony Music, responsible for administering the royalty payments, made a clerical error when attempting to update Specialists' mailing address. 

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In 2012, Specialists contacted Sony about the owed royalties.

Sony responded by explaining the situation, saying that at one point the royalty share was put on hold because it didn't have a valid address, and then in 2004, Sony had erroneously released 100 percent of royalties to Thunderstone due to an administration error. The music giant attempted to do something about owed royalties after 2004 and correct the situation going forward, but Specialists demanded about $36,000 in royalties from the 2000-2004 time period.

Last September, a New York judge dismissed most of the plaintiff's claims due to the statute of limitations but allowed the plaintiff to amend the lawsuit with a breach of contract claim as a third-party beneficiary of Pink's direction to Sony subsidiaries to pay producer royalties to Specialist and Thunderstone. The judge also pointed to Sony's communications with Specialists in 2012 as having acknowledged the debt and responsibility for repayment.

Unfortunately for Specialists, a New York appeals court on Tuesday reversed the ruling because of what was expressly said in the agreement between Pink (born Alecia Moore) and Sony.

"Plaintiff cannot assert a claim as a third-party beneficiary of a letter agreement between defendants Moore and Sony," wrote the appellate judge. "The agreement, requesting and authorizing Sony to deduct a portion of royalties payable to Moore and to pay them directly to plaintiff, by its express terms, negates any intent to permit enforcement by third-parties."

The ruling is a victory for the Recording Industry Association of America, which submitted an amicus brief in the appeal. For others, it's a reminder to check the mail.

Twitter: @eriqgardner