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EMI Offer Intensifies Henley Feud With Geffen : Pop music: The $3-million bid may help the former Eagles singer fund his bitter legal battle to leave his current label.

April 29, 1993|CHUCK PHILIPS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Don Henley-Geffen Records legal battle--which could drastically redefine the nature of recording contracts in the music business--intensified this week as EMI Music confirmed its mega-dollar bid for music publishing rights to Henley's song catalogue.

"We're having conversations with Don Henley right now in connection with publishing his music on a worldwide basis," said Martin Bandier, chairman and chief executive officer of EMI Music Publishing, which is competing for Henley's catalogue against Sony Music and Warner Chappel. The latter had the rights until a contract expired recently.

The move is seen by some industry insiders as a hardening of positions in the already bitter legal dispute. In fact, some see the publishing deal--which only covers the money generated by an artist's songs and not his recordings--as providing an estimated $3-million-plus war chest to Henley to fuel what may be a prolonged legal battle over his recording contract with Geffen.

"I do not wish to record for David Geffen's company anymore," Henley, 45, said this week, in his first public comment on the suit. "David Geffen used to care about music and about his artists, but I don't feel that's the case now. David Geffen is not in the record business anymore. He's in the David Geffen business. I would like to record for a company where I feel at home."

Geffen declined to comment, but his firm intends to seek an injunction in June in Los Angeles Superior Court to bar Henley from recording for another label. Several companies are interested in signing Henley if the legal barriers can be eliminated, sources said.

Henley, formerly a member of the Eagles rock group, has released two albums for Geffen Records since 1984: "Building the Perfect Beast" and "The End of the Innocence." Combined sales of the two albums was about 5 million copies in the U.S. alone.

Following years of tension between Henley and the label, the dispute went public in January when the record company filed a $30-million breach-of-contract suit in Superior Court after receiving a notice from Henley in December saying he was terminating his contract, even though he reportedly owed the company two more studio albums and a greatest-hits collection.

Henley--who filed a cross-complaint in March--is basing his action in part on a controversial California law enacted 50 years ago to free actors from long-term studio deals.

Henley's association with Geffen dates back to 1971 when he started as a drummer and singer for the Eagles--the hugely successful band that was managed by Geffen and his partner Elliot Roberts, and which recorded for Geffen-run Asylum Records. Henley has been affiliated with Geffen as a solo artist since the mid-'80s.

Under the so-called "seven-year statute," entertainers cannot be forced to work for any company for more than seven years. Some record company executives believe the statute won't hold up in court, but have been reluctant to test it because an adverse ruling could lead to a wholesale exodus of veteran artists.

To avoid testing the law, companies have usually rewritten the contracts of best-selling artists, offering higher royalty rates and other considerations before the seven-year limit is reached.

Earlier possible showdowns over the statute--including a recent case filed by Luther Vandross against Sony-owned Epic Records--were avoided when the artists settled out of court for more money and upgraded contract terms.

But Henley's lawyers insist their client is not just using the statute as a negotiating weapon.

"This is not a ploy to renegotiate Don's contract," said John Branca, one of the Los Angeles attorneys representing Henley in the case. "And it's not just a seven-year-statute case either. There are other positions in this suit that are extremely important to the case."

Henley's unhappiness with Geffen's marketing and promotion of his records has been rumored in industry circles for years.

The dispute that triggered the legal battle, however, took place last fall when the singer wanted a recording of a live appearance on "MTV Unplugged" to qualify as one of the two studio albums he owed the company, sources said. Although Geffen approved release of the record, he refused to count it against the balance of albums due, sources said.

That rejection of the "Unplugged" project infuriated the already disgruntled artist and he notified Geffen in December that he would no longer record for the company after 1992, according to parties close to Henley.

Besides the seven-year statute, Henley said he was terminating his contract because he believed Geffen--who sold his company in 1990 to MCA Music Entertainment, which in turn sold it six months later to Matsushita Electrical Inc.--was no longer actively involved in running the label.

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