Matt Dolloff, CBS Radio Boston

Joining a growing list of artists both classic and modern, The Temptations have filed a class-action lawsuit against Universal Music Group, claiming unpaid royalties from digital downloads and ringtones purchased online.

The legendary group’s argument is the same as many other artists who have sued record labels in recent years, that the sale of their music online should count as a “license” rather than a “sale” of the material.

What’s the difference between those two terms? The Temptations’ 1993 contract with UMG grants them 14-16 percent of the revenue from sales, but 50 percent for licensing. Since they signed the contract years before digital downloads were even available, conflicts are inevitable.

And of course, Universal is treating all digital downloads from iTunes, Amazon and other sites as sales rather than licenses. And the group believe Universal owes them millions in unpaid royalties. Their 13 lawyers agree.

The suit also lists other famous classic artists on the UMG label, like Eric Clapton, The Police, James Brown, and The Who. But perhaps their strongest argument in the case comes from Steve Jobs himself, the mastermind behind iTunes, who said the following in an essay called “Thoughts on Music”:

“Since Apple does not own or control any music itself, it must license the rights to distribute music from others, primarily the ‘big four’ music companies: Universal, Sony BMG, Warner, and EMI.”

This lawsuit, plus the others being filed against record companies and the recent settlement Sony had with the Allman Brothers, continues to prove that there is a desperate need for artists, providers, and especially record labels, to create a whole new protocol for digital downloads. They simply cannot be treated the same as physical sales, or as terms written into contracts signed before even the internet was popular, let alone downloading music.

What do you think? Are artists justified in claiming unpaid royalties for digital downloads from record labels? Share your thoughts in the comments.

[Source: The Hollywood Reporter]


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