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A 'Very Special' Lawsuit

October 25, 1987|DENNIS McDOUGAL

Even as pre-holiday promotion of "A Very Special Christmas" began to light up like a Christmas tree, two Indiana record entrepreneurs went to court in an attempt to obtain damages when their celebrity record project became unplugged.

In a suit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court Thursday, Jon Lyons and M. Scott Sotebeer charged that they came up first with the superstar charity record idea and unfairly lost out on the idea to producers of "A Very Special Christmas." The suit asks for $5 million in damages from Special Olympics Records, A&M Records and four named defendants, including producers Jimmy and Victoria Iovine and Special Olympics Records head Bobby Shriver.

The suit alleges unfair advantage, conspiracy to appropriate an original concept and interference with future economic relations.

"In March of 1986, we came up with the full superstar compilation album, with an overall theme to tie together all the pieces of music we would get the artists to create," Lyons said. " 'A Time for Heroes' (the name of the Lyons-Sotebeer project) was just the central theme."

Shriver, contacted at his East Coast office, told Calendar that he hoped the dispute might be settled before going to court and before the Christmas album was released, but he declined further comment, citing the pending suit.

"Even if you are blameless, as I am certain we are, it's a real pain in the neck," said Shriver, a practicing attorney in New York state.

"We haven't been served yet, but to be a defendant in a lawsuit charging us with distributing a record on a nonprofit basis to benefit mentally handicapped adults and children throughout the world should be very interesting litigation," said Ken Powell, vice president of business affairs for A&M Records.

According to the suit, the dispute began nearly two years ago when Lyons and Sotebeer created Orpheum Records. In a contractual arrangement with the International Summer Special Olympics Committee, the suit alleges that Orpheum produced and sold "A Time for Heroes" as a Special Olympics recording in conjunction with last August's Summer Games, held at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend.

Performed by Meat Loaf and the West German pop group Tangerine Dream, the 12-inch single was sanctioned at the Indiana state level by ISSOC officials as a theme song for the 1987 Games, according to the suit.

But the Special Olympics International hierarchy in Washington, headed by Sargent and Eunice Shriver, Bobby's parents, had not given its approval for the single. The Shrivers' choice for official SOI theme song was "We're Lookin' Good," written by Boston Pops conductor John Williams.

As a result, the Orpheum lawsuit alleges that "A Time for Heroes" wasn't played at the Summer Games and received little promotion before or during the week of Aug. 2, when several thousand handicapped and retarded athletes gathered in South Bend.

Lyons and Sotebeer said they pressed and packaged 50,000 copies of the recording, promising to give 75% of the profits after expenses to the Special Olympics, but their sales weren't even marginal.

"I'm sitting in a warehouse full of them," Lyons said last week. "We sold maybe 3,000 to 4,000."

In addition to last week's Superior Court lawsuit, Lyons and Sotebeer filed similar unfair advantage actions last summer against Special Olympics officials in federal courts in both Los Angeles and Indiana, seeking $5 million and $1 million in damages, respectively.

Those suits will be refiled and combined in a single action in Los Angeles in a few weeks, according to Orpheum's trial attorney, Frank Blundo.

All three suits are based on the same story, according to Orpheum's general counsel, Mark Levinson. "They put a lot of money, a lot of time, a lot of energy into this and got the artists interested and then they got kicked in the teeth," he said.

Lyons and Sotebeer had planned to use the superstar album idea to launch their own music recording careers.

"We make no bones about our motivations," he said. "We were never going to make any money out of this, but we would achieve a lot of notoriety for our little record label, exactly the way A&M is getting a lot of recognition out of their Christmas album."


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