Sony division sued by Elvis company

By | Published on Monday 5 September 2011

Sony Music

In a slightly confusing lawsuit, Elvis Presley Enterprises is suing Sony Music subsidiary Arista Music in Germany in a bid to secure $9 million in royalties generated by ringtones, downloads and apps linked to Presley’s 1000+ recordings.

The lawsuit relates to a 1973 agreement between what was then RCA and Presley’s legendary manager Colonel Tom Parker. RCA bought out the worldwide rights to Presley’s back catalogue for $5.4 million, with half the fee going to Presley and half to Parker. Presley – and now the Presley estate – receives only a nominal royalty under the agreement – in Germany it equates to about $10 per track per year.

The decisions to pursue this action in Germany, and in relation to digital revenues, are both key. Elvis Presley Enterprise’s lawyers reckon they can overrule aspects of the 1973 contract using the concept of “equitable remuneration” that exists in German copyright law. Honing in on new digital revenues also arguably strengthens the case, they being something not directly covered by the 1973 contract.

The lawsuit is looking for a $9 million share of Elvis’s digital revenues since 2002, and a share of future revenue until 2023, when under the current European system the final copyrights covered by the 1973 agreement will expire. Sony Music, who, through a series of acquisitions, are now owners of the Elvis catalogue, are yet to respond.

Elvis Presley Enterprises is, of course, majority owned by US entertainment industry firm CKX, who were themselves acquired by New York based private equity outfit Apollo Global Management earlier this summer.