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James Taylor sues Warner over digital royalties

By | Published on Monday 17 September 2012

James Taylor

James Taylor is the latest in a long line of artists to sue for a bigger cut of digital royalties. The Grammy winning singer-songwriter’s $2 million royalties lawsuit is against his original label Warner Bros Records, and makes various claims of under-payment against the major, though most significant are the claims based around the digital royalties debate.

As much previously reported, traditional record contracts paid artists a much higher royalty on licensing income than record sale revenue. Where digital downloads are not specifically referenced in heritage contracts, the majors have treated downloads as the digital equivalent of record sales and paid the smaller artist royalty. But many artists claim that download revenues stem from licensing deals with iTunes et al, and should therefore be treated as licensing income, so that the higher artist royalty is paid.

All the majors now face litigation on this issue in the US, with all the lawsuits citing a legal battle between Universal and Eminem collaborators FBT Productions, where the producers won a higher ‘licensing revenue’ split on their cut of Slim Shady download sales. Whether the precedent in that case can be extended to all heritage record contracts is still to be tested in court.

Warner, which has renegotiated its deals with Taylor at various points since their first agreement in 1969, has yet to comment on the litigation.