Cheap Trick, Allman Brothers sue Sony over download royalties

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NEW YORK – The rock bands Cheap Trick and The Allman Brothers are suing record giant Sony Music, claiming they are being shortchanged on royalties for songs downloaded legally over the Internet.

The suit, filed at a federal court in Manhattan, claims Sony has failed to live up to a contract requiring that it pay its musicians half of the net revenue it receives from licensing songs to download services.

Sony has been paying the aging rockers less than that amount, in part because their record deals predate the existence of legal music sales over the Internet.

According to the suit, the record company is treating digital downloads like traditional record sales, rather than licensed music, triggering a different royalty deal.

Under that old rubric, the record company deducts fees for the kind of extra costs they used to incur when records were pressed on vinyl, including packaging charges, restocking costs and losses due to breakage.

Tracks sold over the Internet usually go for about 99 cents. About 70 cents of the sale price goes to Sony. The bands are getting about 41/2 cents per song, according to the suit, rather than the approximately 30 cents they claim is rightfully theirs.

“I feel strongly that the record company is doing the wrong thing,” said Brian Caplan, an attorney for the bands.

Sony BMG declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Cheap Trick and the Allman Brothers are seeking to have the suit declared a class action, which would cover all Sony artists who signed deals between 1962 and 2002. The Allman Brothers Band signed its current Sony deal in 1989. Cheap Trick’s deal dates to 1976.

While the amount of money at stake per song is small, it could cost Sony millions of dollars if a court rules for the bands.

Caplan estimated that there may be 2,500 recording artists covered by the class.

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