‘Weird Al’ Yankovic is suing Sony Music Entertainment for $5 million over royalty disputes. Yankovic is the latest musician to join the fight, as numerous artists from across the music spectrum have recently filed law suits against their record labels over unpaid royalties, claiming that labels are taking advantage of the confusion over whether royalties owed count as a “sale” or “license” of music.
The recent lawsuit filed in Federal Court in the Southern District of New York by Ear Booker Entertainment on behalf of Yankovic claims that Sony did not pay the entertainer his fair share of royalties, revenue from YouTube videos, and money from previous settlements with file sharing companies like Napster and Kazaa.
According to Rolling Stone, Yankovic is seeking 50 percent of the revenue made from digital downloads of his music, which would follow the precedent set last year when a legal case that was settled on behalf of rapper Eminem established that digital downloads are equal to a license. The New York Times reported that Sony counted downloads of Yankovic’s music as sales rather than licenses, and licenses require record labels to pay artists a higher royalty.
According to Wired.com, in the well–known case filed against Napster in 2000, heavy metal band Metallica filed a lawsuit alleging that the company encouraged piracy by allowing users to trade copyrighted material through its servers. Prior to this suit, most artists’ contracts did not contain a provision for royalties obtained from digital downloads.
A blog post on For the Rechord states that artists generally make between 10 and 20 percent of revenues for the sale of music whereas the licensing of a record typically yields 50 percent of revenues — there is less cost associated with negotiating terms versus the manufacturing, shipping and distributing for the physical sale of music.
Yankovic can now add his name to the growing list of musicians who are suing record companies over the underpayment of royalties. The website for the Bennett Law Office contains a running list of artists who have filed cases against their record labels — many of which have been filed just this year on behalf of artists like The Temptations, Kenny Rogers, and Sister Sledge.
Yankovic, who has earned three Grammy Awards, is known for his musical and video parodies of popular songs by contemporary artists, including “White & Nerdy,” “Amish Paradise,” “Eat It,” and “Perform This Way.” Yankovic’s latest project is a web series called “Face to Face with ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic” and is featured every other Tuesday on the “Nerdist” YouTube Channel. According to the Huffington Post, the series is similar to “Al-TV,” which first ran on MTV and later on VH1 as specials in which the entertainer interviewed celebrities. Yankovic’s first run of his new 10–minute web show features interviews with actors Denzel Washington and Megan Fox.
An article from Billboard.bizthat referenced the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry‘s (IFPI) annual “Recording Industry in Numbers” report announced that physical format sales of music fell 8.7 percent in 2011 to $10.2 billion. One the other hand, digital music revenues grew by 8 percent, rising from $4.84 billion in 2010 to $5.23 billion in 2011. Digital sales currently account for 31 percent of overall recorded music revenues.
As the popularity of digital music continues to grow, so to will the demands by artists to receive the royalties to which they are entitled.
“More than 100 million digital albums were sold in a year for the first time,” said Joshua P. Friedlander, vice president for strategic data analysis for the Recording Institute of American Artists (RIAA) in their annual report, according to an article on PCMag.com. “Across models like subscription services and Internet radio (represented by digital performance royalties) have continued to grow both in popularity as well as in their revenue contribution to the industry. No longer just a niche, digital music has shown it can be a model – or perhaps more accurately a variety of models – for the music industry going forward.”