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Rockers Sue Over Download Royalties

April 28, 2006|Charles Duhigg | Times Staff Writer

Two of the bigger rock bands of the past are suing over the future of their music.

In a lawsuit filed Thursday in New York, the Allman Brothers Band and Cheap Trick allege that they and other groups are being shortchanged by Sony Music, a division of music giant Sony BMG, as digital music downloads explode. The suit seeks class-action status.

Both bands contend that when Sony Music sells downloads of their songs through such services as iTunes, it amounts to the licensing of their music, not its distribution, entitling them to more generous royalties. Currently, the lawsuit says, Sony Music accounts for such sales as "physical phonorecords," deducting a 20% fee for packaging even though downloads are electronic.

The suit also alleges that Sony Music deducts 15% of revenue for "breakage" as it would with a CD or cassette.

As a result, the suit contends, bands should receive 30 cents of the 70 cents Sony Music collects when a digital song is sold. Instead, they receive only 4.5 cents, the bands allege.

"Sony Music is presently engaged in a widespread attempt to underpay its recording artists," band lawyer Brian Caplan said. "With the technological advancements in the music industry, where many people download songs to their iPods and other portable devices, it is essential that artists receive the royalty income to which they are entitled."

Sony BMG declined to comment.

The Allman Brothers had such hits as "Ramblin' Man" and "Whipping Post." Cheap Trick's hits included "I Want You to Want Me" and "Dream Police."

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