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Royalty disputes center of musician James Taylor’s lawsuit

When an individual or group creates an artistic work and then licenses the use of that creation to another party, royalty payments are often the form of compensation laid out in the agreement between the two entities. Royalties often form the base of an artist’s income, and many are able to retire or take a new artistic direction due to the stability of their royalty income stream. However, royalty disputes are common in Florida and elsewhere, and a recently filed lawsuit demonstrates just how lucrative royalty deals can be, and how important it is to protect one’s artistic property.

James Taylor has filed suit against his record label, Warner Bros. Records. The suit claims that the label has failed to pay Taylor royalty fees totaling around $2 million. The lawsuit, filed in late September, is one of multiple similar actions recently brought by artists such as Peter Frampton, Sister Sledge and Kenny Rogers.

Taylor claims that Warner Bros. has underpaid the artist over a period of time. Taylor was with the label from early in his recording career until the late 1970s. As a part of his contract, he negotiated the right to conduct periodic audits of the accounting records related to the sale of his music. Upon examination, these audits revealed several sources of underpayment, including sales of music overseas, inclusion of songs on compilation albums, and budget releases of Taylor’s hits. Warner Bros. disputes Taylor’s claims, and asserts that the artist is not entitled to a higher royalty rate.

As this case makes its way to court, more details are likely to surface. For those Florida residents who are in the artistic or creative fields, the outcome of this case may be of special interest. Building a successful career is hard enough, but finding that your efforts are not being rewarded in the manner in which you negotiated can be stressful and financially challenging. There are far too many excellent artists who failed to properly negotiate and defend their interests, sometimes leading to royalty disputes such as this one. As this suit demonstrates, the best way to ensure that your artistic or intellectual royalty structures are adequately protected is to have a qualified professional guide you through the process and periodically audit your agreements.

Source: classichitsandoldies.com, “James Taylor Seeking Almost $2 Million in Royalty Underpayment Lawsuit,” Sept. 14, 2012

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