Orbison's widow tightens grip on musical legacy with $10m lawsuit

By Ian Herbert
Wednesday 02 January 2002 01:00

Barbara Orbison, whose fierce commercial grip on the song-writing legacy left by her late husband, Roy, has made her one of the wealthiest widows in pop music history, is launching a $10m (£6.8m) lawsuit against two television documentary makers.

The suit, by no means Mrs Orbison's first to protect her inheritance, is against three companies she claims owe her $42,500 (£29,000) for her co- operation with two documentaries and an anthology of live performances by the "Big O", the country and pop-based rock'n'roll pioneer who died of a heart attack at the age of 52 in 1988.

The 50-year-old German-born entrepreneur says the firms, run by Barbara and Gregory Hall, owe her money and that they "misrepresented" their relationships with television networks.

The anthology and one of the documentaries made by the Halls' production companies have been shown on US television. Now Mrs Orbison is trying to stop them showing a third documentary, on the subject of her life, which has not been finished, according to the lawsuit.

Sam Lipshie, a lawyer representing Barbara Orbison Productions, said: "We want them to stop exploiting the documentary and terminate all their rights to license the documentary." The Halls declined to comment.

Mrs Orbison's move comes less than a year after she blocked her late husband's fans from downloading his hits – which include "Oh Pretty Woman", "Crying" and "Only the Lonely", from the music-swapping website Napster. The website was flooded with e-mails on behalf of Roy Orbison Music Co and Barbara Orbison Music citing more than one million copyright violations by users.

Writing on the official Orbison website, Mrs Orbison said: "As a copyright owner, I'm very happy that there is a technology that exists which can identify infringements."

From the 17-year-old who met Orbison in 1968 at the height of his fame and married him a year later, Mrs Orbison has become a formidable commercial proposition, controlling the rights to all of his recordings as well as publishing rights through the 10 companies she runs in Nashville.

In 1998, she pursued damages of $12m in a wrangle with Sony Music Entertainment over royalties from her late husband's recordings. She alleged that the company misrepresented royalty rates and contracts in determining payments and contracts for his products released in the United States and abroad. She also demanded the return of ownership of his master tapes to the family estate.

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The Texan-born Big O, who scored his first international hit with "Only the Lonely" in 1960 after several years of playing with a variety of bands, made a successful comeback in the late 1980s as a member of the super group The Travelling Wilburys, alongside Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and George Harrison.

His enduring commercial worth was underlined earlier this year when he came 12th in a BBC Voice of the Century poll of 40,000 radio listeners.

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