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Kenny Rogers Sues Capitol Records Over Royalties

Country star wants half of net receipts on downloads

February 14, 2012 8:30 AM ET
kenny rogers
Kenny Rogers performs at Hard Rock Live! in the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Florida.
Larry Marano/Getty Images

Kenny Rogers has filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of Tennessee alleging that Capitol Records has failed to pay him royalties for music sold as digital downloads or ringtones. The suit also alleges that the label has not paid the country star any portion of the monetary awards it has won in piracy lawsuits against companies such as Napster and Kazaa.

Rogers' original recording contract was with United Artists in 1975, but Capitol took it over after an agreement in 1977. According to that contract, royalty rates for all recorded works is set at "one-half of company's net royalties from each source." The singer's suit insists the label's refusal to pay appropriately for digital downloads is "part of a conscious decision by Capitol Records and others in the music business to deprive artists of their proper royalties."

Photos: Random Notes
Rogers is not the first to pursue this sort of lawsuit over a label neglecting to honor a royalty agreement when it comes to digital sales. The outcome of a lawsuit last year on behalf of Eminem set a precedent for establishing digital downloads as a "sale," not differentiated from traditional physical formats. Other artists, including Peter Frampton and Chuck D of Public Enemy, have pursued lawsuits in the wake of that decision.

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A country-folk song of epic proportions, "San Francisco Mabel Joy" tells the tale of a poor Georgia farmboy who wound up in prison after a move to the Bay Area found love turning into tragedy. First released by Mickey Newbury in 1969, it might be more familiar through covers by Waylon Jennings, Joan Baez and Kenny Rogers. "It was a five-minute song written in a two-minute world," Newbury said. "I was told it would never be cut by any artist ... I was told you could not use the term 'redneck' in a song and get it recorded."

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