February 27, 2008

Artist managers are girding for battle with their music overlords over when their clients are going to see some of the dough negotiated last year in copyright-infringement settlements with a host of Web sites.

Universal Music, Warner Music and EMI - either collectively or individually - settled claims with Napster, Kazaa and Napster alone had to cough up $270 million.

The fourth major label, SonyBMG, was not part of the suit because Napster was owned by BMG parent company Bertelsmann.

All four struck separate deals with YouTube that included revenue participation.

A contingent of prominent artist managers claims that little to none of that money has trickled down to their clients. They are now considering legal action.

"Artist managers and lawyers have been wondering for months when their artists will see money from the copyright settlements and how it will be accounted for," said lawyer John Branca, who has represented Korn, Don Henley, and The Rolling Stones, among others.

"Some of them are even talking about filing lawsuits if they don't get paid soon."

Record label sources said corporate bosses are still deciding on how best to split the money. In determining the payout, they said not every artist is owed money and it must be calculated with regard to the level of copyright infringement for each artist.

What's more, these sources said that after the labels recouped their legal expenses, there wasn't much left to pass along to the artists.

But a source on the artists' side said that is an argument heard all too often in the music business.

Getting money out of the major labels is never easy, but given the industry's downward financial spiral it is exponentially more difficult now, the source said.

"The record labels are experts at transferring money around and putting the onus on artists managers to find it."

Irving Azoff, the legendary talent manager for The Eagles and Jewel, among others, echoed that sentiment.

"They will play hide and seek, but eventually will be forced to pay something," Azoff said. "The record companies have even tried to credit unrecouped accounts. It's never easy for an artist to get paid their fair share."

Reps for the three labels dispute the notion that they are withholding settlement money.

A spokeswoman for EMI said the label has started the process of "sharing proceeds from the Napster and Kazaa settlements with artists and writers whose work was infringed upon."

Warner Music's representative said the label "is sharing the Napster settlement with its recording artists and songwriters and at this stage nearly all settlement monies have been disbursed."

A Universal Music spokesman said the label's policy "is to share its portion of various settlements with its artists, regardless of whether their contracts require it."

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