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The Legal Tangle of 'Miseducation'

Pop Beat: Group wants a share of the songwriting credit and profits from Lauryn Hill's hit album.

December 19, 1998|GEOFF BOUCHER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A spokesman for Sony/ATV declined to comment on the New Ark deal or the amount of money involved.

Hill's public relations consultant, Dan Klores, said that New Ark's work "was appropriately credited for their contribution on the album. This is an attempt to take advantage of her success and it will be dealt with through the courts."

Klores added that Hill is a monumental talent and her work speaks for itself. "She's created a brilliant album," he said.

"Miseducation" debuted in August at No. 1 on the Billboard album chart, sold a million copies in less than a month and has been collecting top year-end honors from corners as diverse as Spin and Time magazines. The album, heralded by many as pushing new frontiers in R&B, seems a lock for a number of Grammy nominations, which will be announced Jan. 5. But will the lawsuit taint its image for the awards voters when they receive their ballots in mid-January?

"If it were a public contest I think there would be some influence, but our voters are in the industry and they know this is par for the course," Michael Greene, president of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, said this week. "When something is successful, two or three people will step forward to claim they had something to do with it. Standard operating procedure is to not pay any attention to it until something is proven."

Klores said the suit "shouldn't and won't have any effect" on the album as a Grammy hopeful.

The industry has a long history of battles over song credits, and when those songs have won Grammy Awards, NARAS "very quietly" goes back to credit the proper parties and erase the names of the undeserving, Greene said.

Settling songwriting disputes can be a daunting prospect, says Les Bider, chairman and CEO of Warner/Chappell, a giant in the music publishing business. When two, three or more people collaborate, the writers must perform the unwieldy task of calculating their percentage of contribution--and millions of dollars can be at stake if the song becomes a hit.

"You get lots of 5%s and 10%s when you get six or seven writers on a song, and it sounds crazy but you have to figure out the most meaningful contributions," Bider said. "The more people there are, the more confusing it is."

Glen Ballard, a five-time Grammy-winning songwriter and producer, has made a career out of perfecting the art and personal politics of collaboration, working with Alanis Morissette, Aerosmith, Michael Jackson and others. But even for him the process is still somewhat mysterious.

"It's like a group of people with their hands on a Ouija board: Who's moving the thing? We all are, I guess," Ballard said. "At the end of the day, music is a collaborative medium. . . . When it comes to pinning down who did what, a lot of that gets lost in the process. At the time, the best idea wins."

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