Sony Settles with Black Law Firm
(NEW YORK) – What started out as an ugly dispute over platinum albums has turned into a landmark settlement for an Atlanta-based music lawyer who sued Sony BMG Music Entertainment for telling black artists not to use a black law firm.
Walker filed a 13 count complaint alleging among other things that the Verity Gospel Division of Sony BMG plotted consistently to defame his name in lies and rip clients from his small Connecticut based law firm –which is currently relocating to Atlanta. The label also allegedly threatened the artists if they used Walker’s services.
From day one, “we have always said, we have to protect the rights of an artist to use competent legal counsel that they choose to use, regardless of race, color or creed,” added Walker, who over 10 years ago, negotiated a record publishing contract for Sony artist Hezekiah Walker.
Dedicating the lawsuit to his mentor and dear friend, the late Johnny Cochran, Walker said emotionally, “For decades black lawyers have been treated with second class treatment and constantly having to prove that they can do quality legal work. It is very harmful when representatives from Sony, a major player, encourages and fosters these false stereotypes…knowing we work twice as hard as everyone.”
Sony has fired or terminated the contracts of many of the execs and players who ran the urban division and gospel divisions at the time the lawsuit was filed. Walker said this indicates “Sony must have realized the unethical practices of many of these individuals, whom we deposed and hope this is a wake-up call to all labels.”
“The suit was not about money, it was about the rights of artists to have competent legal representation, be paid for their work, and the rights of artist representatives to work in this business without fear of intimidation and defamation.” said Walker long term business partner, J. Richard Byrd and owner of ChurchBrand Architects. (@jrichardbyrd).
Filed nearly a decade ago in 2005, the law firm, led by Attorney Walker, accused Verity Records, Provident Distribution and Max Siegal, former head of the urban divisions of Sony, with tortuously or illegally interfering with contractual relationships that the law firm had with dozens of artists. The case received a plethora of national attention as no firm had challenged Sony before.
“It is like a modern day David (Attorney Walker) took on Goliath (Sony BMG) with a slingshot and won”, said award-winning songwriter David Frazier who shared his story of coercion and threats by Sony to fire Walker years ago. See LA Times http://articles.latimes.com/2005/may/02/business/fi-gospel2)
In the complaint, the Plaintiffs named numerous examples of alleged bad conduct by Sony including the omission of the firm’s name on album credits intentionally, defamation about the firm and a refusal to pay artists top dollars for the use of their copyrights and intellectual property.
For example, in 2002, Walker had secured top payment for nearly 2 dozen artists on the popular “WOW Albums”. Sony, according to the lawsuit, then instructed those artists to terminate Walker or face a possibility of not working at all for the top urban label again.
“They were so mad at times that we were getting our artists paid top dollars, making great albums and they (Sony) wouldn’t even give us a symbolic plaque on a gold or platinum records to put on our walls like their offices decorated from such success. This is customary and standard when your artists has a hit record with a label,” Walker explained and really showed their lack of good faith on the most basic things.
Specifically, the lawsuit also insisted that a number of well known clients were directly told not to use the top-rated attorney, including many high profile clients Walker represented like Grammy winners Hezekiah Walker, Donald Lawrence, Tramaine Hawkins and Twinkie Clark to name just a few and legendary songwriters like David Frazier and V. Michael McKay who were told not to use Walker on their mega publishing and copyright deals.
“He would close more deals than any other lawyer in the history of gospel music,” explained Jerome Bell, a manager/road manger for the likes of Richard Smallwood and Tramaine Hawkins. “Yet and still, execs at the time would constantly try to badmouth him and scare you into not using him. The smart artist and managers knew he provided good legal work, Loved the Lord and really had your best interests at heart. I’m glad to see him victorious in this landmark lawsuit.”
“Often labels want artists to use attorneys that the labels can control –this avoids paying the artists their worth and saves the labels millions of dollars and is clearly a conflict of interest. When you decide to lie about a firm and threaten artists, you have crossed the line,” said Walker.
Walker explained that when a song appears on a Sony album if you are the songwriter you are entitled to about 7-8 pennies for each copy sold. Thus, if an album sells platinum, the one songwriter could be due anywhere between $70,000 to $80,000. Labels often ask you to reduce these pennies in half so they do not pay out as much –which Walker contends is unfair to an artist or songwriter who makes their living off their hit catalogue.
Defendant Verity Records, now called RCA Inspirational, is the largest mainstream gospel label in the world. Based in New York, it has been home to gospel music stars Richard Smallwood, Yolanda Adams, Fred Hammond, Donald Lawrence, Donnie McClurkin, Kirk Franklin, John P. Kee and Marvin Sapp to name a few.
Walker, former in house counsel for the Source Magazine, has worked with some of the leading names in the music industry including Jamie Foxx, Freddie Jackson, Rick James, DMX, Shirley Caesar and BET’s Bobby Jones, among others. He recently co-chaired the legal team in the successful litigation and settlement between Disney’s Kyle and Chris Massey and A&E/Lifetime networks over the Bristol Palin show. He is also a regular guest contributor to CNN, BET, ABC, FOX, Court TV, HLN and Arise TV networks. Walker is also the author of “This Business of Urban Music” (Random House), the #1 urban legal reference book and teaches a very popular entertainment law related class, “Michael Jackson: The Business of Music” in Atlanta. In Atlanta, he is working with the Granville Law Firm Group and the Greene Legal Group.
He also plans to put a copy of the lawsuit on his website at www.walkerandassoc.com or if artists tweet or email him @jameslwalkeresq or firstname.lastname@example.org
Portions of this article are from http://raprehab.com/