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Musicians sue Universal Music for lost royalties

More than a dozen recording artists, including the estates of Count Basie and Benny Goodman, sued Universal Music on Friday, saying they had been cheated out of more than $6 million in royalties since 1998. The artists, many of whom signed with recording companies that were later bought by Universal, sued the world’s largest music label for breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty in a lawsuit filed in New York State Court.

In a statement, Universal, which is owned by the French company Vivendi, denied the allegations.

“We believe that these claims are baseless, and we are confident that we will prevail in court,” the company said.

The lawsuit alleges that Universal, which is required to submit at least biannual reports of sales and earnings for each artist, provided false information throughout the accounting period of May 1999 through February 2007.

Universal has not provided all records needed to calculate the losses, but the company “systematically underpaid royalties” since 1998, the lawsuit said.

“Despite a relationship based on trust and manifold contractual obligations, and despite the fact that defendants realized an overwhelming windfall to both its finances and reputation as a result of this relationship,” Universal has “utterly failed” to meet their obligations, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit also accuses Universal of engaging in “pervasive and systematic acts of using false statements” to conceal the complete earnings of the artists.

Other artists included in the lawsuit, either individually or through their estates, were Les Brown, Richard Hayman, Dick Hyman, Woody Herman, Kitty Kallen, Frankie Laine, Tony Martin, John Mills, Jerry Murad, Patti Page, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and Sarah Vaughn.

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