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Bing Crosby’s Clan Sues Universal

Bing Crosby became famous for crooning such classics as “White Christmas,” “Pennies from Heaven,” and “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?” Unfortunately, the contracts he signed were not as clear as the golden tones of his voice, and Crosby’s surviving family now alleges that the Universal Music Group should spare them 1.6 billion dimes (that’s $16 million) in unpaid royalties.

The dispute hinges on whether or not Universal is obliged to pay 15 percent royalties on Crosby’s pre-1949 recordings. The plaintiffs – the estates of Crosby and his first wife, Wilma Wyatt (known in film as Dixie Lee) – audited their books and noticed that Universal had been paying only 7 percent on such recordings, which runs contrary to a contract Crosby signed with Decca.

Universal, which acquired rights to Crosby’s music when it acquired Decca, says that Crosby and Decca reached an agreement in 1948 that lowers the royalty rate on Crosby’s pre-1949 recordings from 15 percent to 7 percent. The plaintiffs, unsurprisingly, deny that such an agreement ever existed. The difference between the two accountings is the $16 million.

Other artists have also been taking Universal to court recently, most notably Peggy Lee, who is leading a class action suit challenging the royalty rates paid to all artists who recorded with Universal, and Courtney Love, who seeks to break what she feels is an unfair contract Universal forced her to sign.

Originally Published