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Ultra sues Ultra over the Ultra name, but that other Ultra isn’t involved

By | Published on Wednesday 14 December 2022

Ultra Records

Given that we already had to deal with the fact there is a festival called Ultra and a label called Ultra – both dance music centric but unconnected in terms of ownership – I think we can probably all cope with there now also being a separate dance music-centric music publishing company called, you guessed it, Ultra. But Sony Music is not convinced.

The Ultra record label and the Ultra publishing company were originally in common ownership, both being founded by Patrick Moxey. But Sony Music bought into the label side of the business ten years ago. Then, earlier this year, it was announced that the major had taken complete ownership of Ultra Records and Moxey was leaving his role running the label.

The music publishing side of Moxey’s company was not part of the Sony deal, although it did have an alliance with the Sony music publishing business. That is, it did until March this year, when it was announced Ultra Music Publishing had formed a partnership with Warner Chappell.

Which is fine and lovely, except – Sony Music wants to know – why is Moxey’s publishing business still branded Ultra?

Because that brand is owned by the label, and a licence granted to the publisher allowing it to share the name was terminated by Sony once it was fully in control on the label side. Although, it’s probably worth noting, that termination didn’t actually go into force until after the Warner Chappell deal was announced.

In a recent trademark infringement lawsuit – published yesterday by Music Business Worldwide – Sony states that not only did Moxey receive “substantial payment” when it bought him out of the Ultra Records business, but “he has sought to perpetuate the falsehood that he remains involved with Ultra Records by wrongfully continuing to use Ultra Records’ Ultra trademark as part of his music publishing business”.

Following the original Sony/Ultra deal in 2012, it adds, “Ultra International Music Publishing and its affiliates were only permitted to use the word ‘Ultra’ under licence from Ultra Records”. And “that licence was terminated by Ultra Records following the buyout, effective 29 Mar 2022”.

“Notwithstanding”, the lawsuit goes on, “Ultra International Music Publishing has continued to use the word ‘Ultra’ in a manner that is violative of Ultra Records’ valuable trademark rights under both US and New York law”.

The lawsuit does concede that – although the 2012 deal definitely mentions there being a licence agreement covering Moxey’s use of the Ultra brand for his publishing business – it didn’t go into any specifics about that agreement.

With Moxey running both the label and the publisher until the start of this year, the name sharing arrangement was seemingly left informal and unwritten. Should the dispute get to court, those ambiguities will likely be very much in the spotlight.

Responding to the legal action, Moxey told MBW: “Sony have done nothing but bully me from the day I sold them my record company. Ultra International Music Publishing has been an independent standalone business for over 20 years, which publishes songs co-written with Drake, Post Malone, Ed Sheeran, 21 Savage, Rihanna, Future, Kygo and many more”.

“The vast majority of our songs are not on Ultra Records or Sony”, he added. “I have made it abundantly clear on numerous occasions in media interviews that Ultra International Music Publishing is completely separate from Ultra Records, and always has been. I have every right to use the name ‘Ultra’ in connection with Ultra International Music Publishing, and won’t be intimidated by a massive global corporation”.

So there you go. And just to clarify, in case there’s any confusion, the Ultra Music Festival is not involved in this dispute in any way. It’s Ultra v Ultra, but without the involvement of Ultra.