Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Lawsuit Claims Buyers of '80s, '90s Hits Getting Inferior Re-Recordings

Eriq Gardner/The Hollywood Reporter/Billboard

Musicians are going back to the studio to re-record old hits. It's an open secret of the music industry, but a new lawsuit contends that consumers aren't being told they're getting "poorly re-recorded songs" when buying compilation albums.

The defendant in the proposed class action lawsuit is Tutm Entertainment (d/b/a Drew's Entertainment), which has sold albums including Hits of the 80's and Hits of the 90's. The albums feature songs like "I Think We're Alone Now" by Tiffany, "Cult of Personality" by Living Colour, "Ice Ice Baby" by Vanilla Ice and "I Wanna Sex You Up" by Color Me Badd.

But in New Jersey federal court, Celeste Farrell is leading a proposed class of consumers taking issue with the packaging. "Instead of conveying the source of the recording to allow the consumer to make an informed purchase decision, Tutm provides no information on the Albums' cover or back label to indicate to the consumer that the songs are not the original songs," says the lawsuit.

There are a few reasons why musicians with past hits go back to the studio recording.

One is contracts. A record label might own the sound recording of an '80s hit in perpetuity, but there might be allowances for musicians to record other versions once their record contract expires. In order to capture a larger share of the income derived from the sale or licensing of a song, a musician might re-record. See for example rock act Def Leppard's fight with Universal Music a couple of years back.

Another reason might be copyright termination. Thanks to the 1976 Copyright Act, authors can recapture copyright grants after 35 years of publishing. A number of big-name musicians have done exactly that, and have or will soon be regaining publishing rights. Once they do so, they might be interested in re-recording their hits so as to be able to sell or license a version that will no longer have to be shared with the record label.

In theory, re-recordings allow musicians to get more more money and consumers to get cheaper tunes.

But the proposed class action contends that it is fraud to sell unlabeled re-recordings this way, allegedly depriving consumers of informed choice. The lawsuit seeks at least $5 million in damages. The defendant hasn't responded yet to The Hollywood Reporter's request for comment.

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