James Taylor is the latest artist to sue his former label over digital royalties (among other things), on a contract that was in place long before the MP3 was even conceived.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, Taylor is suing Warner Bros. Records, where he was signed from 1969-1979 for the prime of his career, for $2 million. He filed paperwork at the Los Angeles Superior Court on Thursday on the grounds that his royalty rate for digital sales is unjustly low.
It’s not an uncommon complaint – artists like Funkadelic’s George Clinton, Kenny Rogers, Rick James, Sister Sledge, Peter Frampton and more have made similar claims in their respective label lawsuits. While his royalty rate for sales is between 10 to 12 percent, the rate for licenses is much higher – at 50 percent. Thanks to a 2010 ruling involving Eminem, a legal precedent allows suits of this nature, which liken digital royalties to licensing royalties more than standard sales royalties, due to the versatility of the digital medium. (Basically, the idea that digital music could be easily altered or spread for use in additional ways.)
Legacy artists have particularly flocked to this legal precedent, due to the fact that their contracts were conceived before the advent of digital music platforms. Legacy artists and their rich back catalogues remain a financial priority to major labels, who continue to release low-cost greatest hits compilations and reissues.
- Jillian Mapes, CBS Local