Universal Music Says Artist Privacy at Stake in Digital Royalties Dispute

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(from Billboard.biz, April 30, 2013)  In 2011, Rob Zombie and Rick James proposed a class action lawsuit against Universal Music Group over digital income.  The litigation from Rob Zombie and Rick James on behalf of themselves and others under the Universal Music Group umbrella seeks substantial damages from the record label’s decision to treat income from downloads off of venues like Apple’s iTunes as “sales” instead of “licenses,”  but just how much money is at stake is the question at hand.

The lawyers representing the plaintiffs want Universal Music Group to turn over download revenue and volume information tied to particular artists so they can come up with a calculation of damages and order the information in an effort to gain class certification.  Universal Music Group is claiming that it is unreasonable and if it were to happen, the privacy of artists will suffer.

The current litigation is a follow-up form the 2010 ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals over a dispute between Eminem’s production team of Mark and Jeff Bass and Eminem’s record label, Aftermath (a subsidiary of Universal Music Group).  The judges ruled that a lower court had made a mistake by not deeming the label’s agreements with third-parties download providers as licenses instead of sales.  Many attorneys for other Universal Music Group artists want to repeat the success, which would entitled these artists to collect about 50% of collected digital revenue instead of about 15%.

This case is more complicated with the potential number of artists who have contracts with Universal Music Group.  Not every artist has precisely the same contract or enjoys the same level of success.  Commonality is one of the factors a judge will consider when deciding whether or not to certify a class action.

The plaintiffs’ lawyers believe having access to data will help them sort through the issues in preparation for certification.  Universal Music Group on the other hand believes it’s a breach of privacy, “Under the plaintiffs’ proposal, plaintiffs’ attorneys and music industry professionals could review the private financial information of thousands of recording artists with whom they may have adverse relationships.”