From Peggy Lee to Louis Armstrong, music label pays back what it owes

Louise Jury
Saturday 04 January 2014 06:08
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A record label is to pay $4.75m (£3.2m) to the estates of artists including Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday who were wrongly deprived of royalties, a judge confirmed yesterday.

The settlement ends a class action suit led by the singer Peggy Lee, who died in January, aged 81. She believed she was never properly recompensed for her singing talent.

Judge Victoria Chaney of the Los Angeles Superior Court approved the sum yesterday despite last-minute appeals by Larry Hagman, the star of the television series Dallas, who is fighting for a larger payout to the estate of his mother, the actress Mary Martin.

Mr Hagman, whose mother starred in Broadway musicals including South Pacific and The Sound of Music, had objected, saying the figure was too low and unfair to some artists.

But Judge Chaney ruled that it was fair because it followed extensive mediated bargaining and because only a small percentage of the class action members had objected.

Peggy Lee had accused Decca Records, now part of the media giant Vivendi Universal, of underpaying royalties to her and up to 200 other artists, including Bill Haley, Pearl Bailey and Patsy Cline, for more than four decades. The musicians claimed that Decca under-reported sales figures, overcharged for services and short-changed them by paying royalties based on incorrect prices relating to CD sales.

Many artists signed amendments in the 1980s for CD sales just as the format was beginning to catch on, but claimed that Vivendi Universal did not properly follow the terms of those amendments.

Vivendi, the world's biggest record company, acquired the contracts of the artists who are now to share in the belated windfall through a series of mergers.

Cyrus Godfrey, who represented Ms Lee, said the first payments would be made in 90 days if there was no further legal wrangling.

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Mr Hagman has 30 days to decide whether to opt out of the agreement and pursue an individual claim

He had argued that the settlement was too low "to compensate what has been done to so many outstanding artists in American history".

But Mr Godfrey warned him against the idea and said he hoped Mr Hagman "realises he's interfered with this enough. I thought his objection was utterly and completely without merit."

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