Chris Cornell’s widow, Vicky Cornell, has filed a lawsuit against Soundgarden, claiming the band is withholding royalties from her over seven unreleased recordings Cornell made before his death in 2017.
The lawsuit, filed in Florida court Monday, names Cornell’s former Soundgarden bandmates, Kim Thayil, Matt Cameron and Ben Shepherd, as well as the band’s business manager, Rit Venerus. (Venerus declined to comment.) It claims they have “shamelessly conspired to wrongfully withhold hundreds of thousands of dollars indisputably owed to Chris’ widow and minor children in an unlawful attempt to strong-arm Chris’ Estate into turning over certain audio recordings created by Chris before he passed away.”
According to the lawsuit, Cornell made the seven recordings at his personal studio in Florida in 2017. The suit alleges there was never any explicit agreement that these songs were for Soundgarden, and that Cornell was the exclusive owner of them. After Cornell’s death, the band reached out to Vicky, who agreed to share the unreleased recordings with Soundgarden for a potential new album so long as they used one of Cornell’s “trusted producers” and kept her informed about a possible album marketing strategy. About a year later, however, the suit claims the band said it was unwilling to commit to the producer, planned to bring in its own producers and musicians and wasn’t willing to go “through any type of approval process,” ostensibly in regards to the marketing strategy.
A representative for Vicky Cornell referred Rolling Stone to a statement she posted on Instagram, in which she wrote, “I am shocked at how often this occurs. It’s not just me, or the rock-star widow, or the political widow; it is the case for the vast majority of women after their partners have passed. It transcends socio-economic class, race, and religion. It is an unpleasant and unfortunately all too common theme. Hard-hearted family members, friends, and business associates; who will exploit a widow’s vulnerability when she’s broken and alone. These other people who have decided that her time is up as well.”
View this post on Instagram
I have been taking time these past few weeks to be grateful for all the good people around me and for those who have lifted me up at the very worst times in my life. The silver lining, during the storm, is finding and appreciating the subtle glow of those who sincerely support you in your life unconditionally. However, sometimes while you grieve the one you physically lost, you realize that you must now grieve the loss of some of those you considered friends and family as well. I am shocked at how often this occurs. It’s not just me, or the rock-star widow, or the political widow; it is the case for the vast majority of women after their partners have passed. It transcends socio-economic class, race, and religion. It is an unpleasant and unfortunately all too common theme. Hard-hearted family members, friends, and business associates; who will exploit a widow’s vulnerability when she’s broken and alone. These other people who have decided that her time is up as well. Through support groups and other widowed friends, and during both difficult and supportive conversations, I have learned that I am not a unique case. This seems to be the inevitable plight of the widow in this world and I cannot help feeling angry, sad and betrayed. I will not be bullied or shamed into silence. I will not accept something so wrong, so lacking in compassion or decency, even with the clear but unspoken threat of social rejection hanging over me. This was not the way I would have chosen to move forward. But I will not be pushed aside for someone else’s convenience or gain. I will not sacrifice our children’s futures for someone else’s greed. And I will not let someone else make me feel shame because the man I loved was taken from all of us too soon. I will do justice by my husband’s work and memory; for our children and for everything we stood for. I want to thank everyone who has stood by Chris and has supported us through this devastating time. Your love and your kindness will never be forgotten. #chriscornell forever 🖤
The suit then alleges that the surviving members of Soundgarden – Thayil in particular – began to make false statements to the media about who owned the unreleased Cornell recordings and the reasons for the holdup on the new album. Then, in November, the suit claims that Soundgarden’s lawyers sent Vicky Cornell a letter demanding she turn over the unreleased recordings, which the band claimed sole ownership of.
Neither a representative for Soundgarden nor the band’s lawyer returned Rolling Stone‘s request for comment, but a letter from an attorney on behalf of the band included in the suit sheds some light on their position. The letter claimed Soundgarden “had been working on the files in a collaborative effort with the other members of Soundgarden, and the entire band was feeling very positive about their rekindled artistic energy and creative.” The band claimed that “any music content (instrumental and/or vocals, demos or rough recordings) stored on the hard drive by any or all members of Soundgarden (including any recordings containing only the performances of Chris Cornell intended for Soundgarden) constitutes Soundgarden partnership property.” It also included a list of the songs-in-question, three of which listed Cameron as a co-writer, while Thayil and Shepherd were listed as co-writers on one song each.
Still, Vicky Cornell’s suit alleges that Soundgarden “has not produced any partnership documents, much less any documentation signed by Chris, supporting their conclusory claims of ownership.” Furthermore, it notes that “there is no evidence that the [unreleased recordings]… were ever intended to be anything but Chris’ sole and exclusive property.” It also cites a 2013 e-mail Cornell sent to the band’s lawyers, refusing to sign a partnership agreement, saying he would no longer allow others, in the words of the lawsuit, to “disproportionately profit from his creative labors.”
The suit closes by accusing Soundgarden of refusing to negotiate over the unreleased recordings and instead resorting “to pressure tactics, harassment, unlawful conversion of royalties and extortion.”
Vicky Cornell’s Lawsuit Against Surviving Soundgarden Members