Sony Music Sued By Guild Over Use of Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston Songs

"Michael Jackson This Is It" (2009)

Released after Jackson's death, the Kenny Ortega-helmed doc chronicles preparations for the King of Pop's last tour. Gross: $252 million

The American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada is back with another lawsuit. This time, the guild is targeting Sony Music over its use of music for films, television specials and new recordings. The guild aims to enforce agreements covering musicians who contributed instrumentals to songs from Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Earth Wind & Fire, and Tony Bennett.

With regards to the King of Pop, AFM flags Sony for calling its musicians for a 2009 recording session to complete a duet by Jackson and Paul Anka for the film, This Is It and its soundtrack. The session is said to be a violation of a labor agreement that provides that recording sessions are only to be called for a phonographic record, and if it was to be for a movie, AFM says it would have required an arrangement where the musicians got residual compensation.

Additionally, Sony is cited for authorizing the use of Jackson's "Bad" on a track by the hip hop artist Pitbull without telling AFM so that the musicians who contributed to Jackson's original recording could get paid. Similarly, Sony's decision to license such Jackson songs as "Billie Jean," "Man in the Mirror," and "The Way You Make Me Feel" for This Is It is said to be a "sampling new use" triggering payment obligations on behalf of those who worked on the original songs.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday in New York details other ways that Sony has allegedly breached contract.

When Sony released a CD/DVD of a work titled Whitney Houston Live: Her Greatest Performances, that allegedly required notice and eventual residuals to the musicians who accompanied the singer.

Sony's license of Earth, Wind & Fire's "Boogie Wonderland" for the 2012 film The Intouchables is flagged too. The song's new use in a film gives rise to obligations to pay musicians in "an amount equal to all payments that would be required under the terms of the AFM Basic Theatrical Motion Picture Agreement that were then in effect," according to the complaint.

And AFM says that when Sony licensed 17 sound recordings featuring duets by Tony Bennett and other vocal artists for a television program broadcast by PBS, its musicians were due payment there as well under the applicable collectively bargained agreement.

AFM's latest action follows lawsuits in recent months against film studios for recycling old film soundtracks and recording music outside of North America. The guild has new leadership and has clearly decided to become more aggressive in court. Here's the complaint.