Ellington Estate takes on EMI Music

October 2014

Music publishing


The estate of Duke Ellington is hoping to resurrect a royalties lawsuit against EMI Music Publishing, (now controlled by Sony/ATV)  after a lower courts sided with the music company in the legal dispute.

The lawsuit, being led by Ellington’s grandson, first emerged in 2010, and centres on royalties – and the artificial reduction in artiste royalties as money is moved between a big music firm’s global subsidiaries and the division to which the creator is directly signed to. It is common practice for each subsidiary to take a commission, with the artist getting their percentage cut only of the monies that reach their home division – here with EMI treats its businesses in other countries as if they were third-party sub-publishers, with Ellington’s estate arguing in reality that they are, in fact, different offices of the same company. And more importantly, Team Ellington alleged that this directly breached the jazz great’s 1961 contract with Mills Music, which was subsequently acquired by the EMI publishing firm.

The court which first heard the case concluded that while the 1961 contract did specifically ban the publisher from allowing its subsidiaries to take additional cuts of any royalties, that only applied to subsidiaries of Mills Music that existed when the contract was signed, and not the plethora of global spin-off businesses added since. Appeal court judges questioned lawyers for both sides this week about reinstating the legal claim, and should rule on the matter next month.



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