EMI Doesn't Pay Royalties, Or It Does, But To The Wrong People, Or It Doesn't, Or Maybe It Does…
from the ah, major labels dept
A few years ago, we wrote about Tim Quirk’s struggle to get Warner Music to actually provide any sort of accounting for the money earned by his band, Too Much Joy. There have been a few similar stories over the years, and what you begin to realize is that it appears the major labels basically don’t even track this stuff. They seem to assume most bands just won’t recoup, and so they never have to provide any accounting to them at all (and just keep the money for themselves). From what I’ve heard, if a band is truly successful and keeps bugging the label, eventually they’ll put together something approximating an accounting of what’s been earned. Who knows how accurate these statements are.
Of course, sometimes these stories go from just wacky to downright insane. Hans Ridder points us to the story of Bill Nelson, of the band Be-Bop Deluxe, and the rather ridiculous situation he went through over the years. The actual story is about a decade old, but got some renewed attention earlier this year when a bunch of blogs reposted it. We just came across it when Ridder sent it in, and wanted to post it here because it really shows how these labels treat some of their artists — never giving any actual accounting, always slow to reply with any details, always denying that anything’s been recouped. The fact that they then started changing their story and claimed they actually gave the money to the wrong people — then denied that, then again said that was the case later — is only an added dimension to the insanity.
The story began with Nelson asking EMI repeatedly for an accounting of what had been earned for Be-Bop Deluxe, and either getting no answer at all or (after asking many times over) being told that the band had “not recouped.” There was never any evidence presented for this. The label kept reissuing works, and even contacted him to work on some of them. In one case, they told him that if he helped work on a “best of” offering, that would tip the account over, and he’d start receiving royalties. Of course, that never happened. Yet EMI came back again to ask him to work on a box set, and he asked again. And that’s when things got bizarre:
Over a period of two years, a very strange story emerged. The first communication the lawyers received from EMI said that they HAD, in fact, been paying royalties…to ‘the band.’ My response to the lawyers was…, “Ask them which band,” as I certainly had not received any royalty payments from the record company. After a long time and further prompting from the lawyers, EMI said that they actually had been making royalty payments to Nick Dew, Ian Parkin and Rob Bryan. The amazing thing about this is that these three people were NOT on any of the Be Bop Deluxe albums except the very first one, ‘Axe Victim.’ All the other albums were recorded with different musicians, (Charlie Tumahai, Simon Fox and Andy Clarke), under a different contractual set-up. It seemed that the first line-up, who only ever recorded the ONE album, had been receiving royalty payments from EMI for ALL Be Bop recordings, including re-issues… Recordings in which they had taken NO part, either as performers or otherwise. The really damning thing about this is that none of the original members of the band ever spoke up about it and said, “hang on a minute, I’m getting money here for music I didn’t even make!” (It would be evident from the royalty statements they received that the payments were for various albums from the Be Bop catalogue, and not just the ‘Axe Victim’ album.) Record company cock-up aside, what does this say about people you once regarded as your friends?
Anyway, after I had explained to the lawyers, via Richard, that these people had not earned royalties on anything except the band’s first album, letters were then sent to EMI requesting an explanation. Again, some months went by before any reply. I seem to remember that there was some muttering about EMI not knowing where to contact me to send royalties, (and me the only member of the original line up to have continued with a professional and public career in music), but, at a later date, they seemed to change their story and said that they hadn’t paid the other members after all. Actually, they said, EMI were only obliged to pay a company called ‘Be Bop Deluxe Ltd,’ which had been set up by Be Bop’s manager Mike Dolan and which no longer existed. As the company no longer existed, there was, EMI claimed, no legal requirement for them to pay any royalties generated by the product. (Despite earlier claiming to have paid money to the band’s first line-up.)
Whilst trying to decide what to do next, I suggested that the lawyers should ask EMI to at least let me know how much my ‘lost’ royalty figures would have been. This would help me to decide whether it was worth pursuing EMI further. The legal costs are, of course, prohibitive, very much so for me. A major company like EMI can easily afford to spin things out until any opponent breaks under the financial strain. I, as they well know, can’t.
Again, time passed, further reminders were sent to EMI and they finally replied. It seems that they had now gone back to their first story, that they HAD made payments but only to the three other members of the ‘Axe Victim’ line-up, excluding myself. A circular argument? Since then, further communications have been made between my side and theirs. These communications have always been marked by a painfully slow response from EMI. Spinning it out as long as possible, hoping that it might go away, perhaps? Eventually, an offer came… EMI would pay me any future royalties generated by Be Bop Deluxe product, provided, one suspects, that I didn’t cause any more fuss. Basically, they said that they were under no legal obligation to pay me anything at all, (due to the ‘Be Bop Deluxe Ltd’ company’s demise), although they do admit to paying royalties to the wrong members of the band. An administration mistake, apparently. Does that make it OK then?
In the end, his lawyers basically told him there was nothing he could do, except potentially sue the original members of the band, and that going any further with pretty much any strategy would be horrifically expensive. In the meantime, we’re still supposed to believe that record labels have the best interests of artists at heart? Why does anyone believe this myth?