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Bing Crosby estate sues Universal Music for $16 mil

A suit that pits the estate of legendary crooner Bing Crosby against Universal Music Group alleges that the family has been cheated out of royalties to the tune of $16 million.

A hearing in the case, filed last year in the Santa Monica branch of L.A. Superior Court, is scheduled for next month. The plaintiffs – the estates of Crosby and his first wife Wilma Wyatt (the actress known as Dixie Lee, who died in 1952) – are seeking documents, including 10 email messages, they expect will support their breach of contract claims.

The attorney representing the Crosby estate did not return a phone call seeking comment. A spokesman for Universal, the world’s largest music company, said the company does not comment on pending litigation.

According to court papers, Crosby recorded for Decca Records under two major contracts. Decca was acquired by MCA Records and ultimately folded into Universal Music.

On songs recorded before 1949, Crosby was to receive a royalty rate of 15% of the wholesale price; on songs after that date, he was to receive a royalty of 7% of the retail price.

Following an audit, the Crosby estate informed Universal that it was paying 7% royalties on all songs, instead of 15% on pre-1949 songs. UMG claimed that the royalty rate had been contractually changed in 1948. The plaintiffs claim there never was a 1948 agreement.

One subject of the upcoming hearing is a series of email messages pertaining to the supposed 1948 contract, which Universal claims are protected by the attorney-client privilege.

The Crosby case is one of several pending against Universal. Others include a class action challenging royalty rates brought by singer Peggy Lee on behalf of all artists who performed for Decca Records. Two suits by singer Courtney Love on behalf of herself and the estate of her husband Kurt Cobain also challenge royalties, but primarily seek to nullify the contracts with Universal.

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