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Jazz Lawsuits: Artie Shaw’s Ex-Wife Sues; James Newton & Beastie Boys Update

Lawsuits are nothing new in the music industry (especially now that the RIAA has joined the fray), but here are a couple that are slightly more interesting than the average bunch.

To begin, Artie Shaw’s ex-wife Evelyn Keyes is suing Shaw’s estate (Shaw died on Dec. 30, 2004 at age 94) for more than $1 million in a breach-of-contract suit. Keyes, who was married to Shaw from 1957-1985, claims that she lent Shaw $150 million when he needed money to sue movie studios and recording companies for alleged unauthorized use of his likeness and for royalty disputes.

“During the first half of the 1970s, following the (Shaw-Keyes) separation, Mr. Shaw was in poor financial condition, having paid the better part of his wealth in settlement of his seven prior marriages,” the lawsuit alleged. The suit also states that Shaw promised Keyes to either repay the loan or give her 50 percent of the money recovered from Shaw’s lawsuits, whichever was greater. Keyes filed the suit against attorney A. Edward Ezor, a representative of Shaw’s estate and trustee of the Artie Shaw Foundation and the Artie Shaw Living Trust.

The second lawsuit, between jazz flutist James W. Newton and the Beastie Boys, was denied a hearing by the Supreme Court Monday, letting a lower court ruling stand in favor of the Beastie Boys. Newton filed the suit over the Beastie Boys 1992 song “Pass the Mic,” contending that a six-second sample from his work “Choir” was used without his full permission. The Beastie Boys paid a licensing fee for Newton’s three-note segment but did not pay an additional fee to license the underlying composition.

The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had earlier agreed to dismiss Newton’s lawsuit on the grounds that the sample was not distinctive enough to be considered Newton’s work. Several jazz and artist activists, including the American Composers Forum, the Electronic Music Foundation and Meet the Composer, had filed a joint friend-of-the-court brief in support of Newton.

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