Major Labels

Stunning Warner Music Defeat vs Madonna ‘Vogue’ Co-Writer

image from upload.wikimedia.orgA Manhattan federal appeals court has found that Warner Music Group is guilty of wrongfully withholding royalties from the co-writer behind Madonna’s hit song “Vogue.”

Two years ago, Robert ‘Shep’ Pettibone filed a lawsuit against the label claiming that both WMG and publishing division Warner/Chappell “withheld and failed to pay” royalties owed to him from the 1990 hit, despite demands and a notice of breach.

The money was seemingly being held back in order to recoup legal fees spent on a separate legal battle over a sample in Madonna’s “Vogue,” which Pettibone produced. At the time Pettibone and Madonna were accused by US company VMG Salsoul of illegally using a brief sample of a 1970s recording called “Love Break” on “Vogue.”

Though Pettibone and Madonna won the sample case back in 2016, the appeals court overturned the lower court’s decision to make VMG Salsoul pay the other side’s legal fees. With Warner having paid for the lawyers, Pettibone filed his own lawsuit claiming the company was attempting to claw back hundreds of thousands of dollars from his royalties. Deductions, he alleged, were not permitted under his contracts with the major.

Though Warner argued that it was entitled to deduct royalties in this manner due to an indemnification agreement with Pettibone, yesterday (April 18) US Court of Appeals Circuit Judges Barrington D. Parker and Peter W. Hall ruled in favor of the writer and producer.

While former Manhattan U.S. District Judge Richard J. Sullivan had sided with WMG, ruling that the indemnification agreement granted the label group the right to withhold royalties, Parker and Hall ruled to overturn the decision stating that the contract’s language was “tortured,” “garbled,” and “ambiguous,” even hinting that Judge Sullivan may have forced Pettibone to pay “enormous” legal fees just to defend his rights on Madonna’s “Vogue.”

Following the stunning win, Pettibone will no longer be forced to pay Warner Music Group’s legal fees, which are reportedly in the ballpark of  $1 million.

photo: chrisweger [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons


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