Publishing giant BMG has “failed and refused” to pay “Uptown Funk” royalties to the heirs of Gap Band members Robert and Ronnie Wilson after the brothers were credited as co-songwriters of the Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars mega-hit in a 2015 agreement, a new lawsuit filed in federal court in Manhattan claims.
The complaint filed Thursday by Ronnie’s widow Linda Wilson and Robert’s daughters Robin and LaTina Wilson, among other heirs, alleges BMG has either “retained all funds due to plaintiffs for its own benefit and enjoyment” or “wrongfully diverted” the money elsewhere.
Third brother and former Gap Band lead vocalist Charlie Wilson is not a party to the new lawsuit.
“No papers have yet been served on BMG, so it is difficult to comment. What we can say is that previous litigation attempts by the plaintiffs have been thrown out of court, and we are confident of our position. We will be in a better position to state our case if and when papers are served,” a spokesman for BMG wrote in a statement to Rolling Stone.
Robert and Ronnie Wilson were among the five songwriters behind the 1979 Gap Band song “Oops Upside Your Head” that was later determined to be a basis for 2014’s “Uptown Funk.” The brothers were each assigned 3.4% of the copyright and music publishing rights to “Uptown Funk” under the 2015 deal that was reportedly brokered to avert a lawsuit and trial in the wake of the notorious “Blurred Lines” $7.4 million jury verdict.
According to the new complaint filed Thursday, Ronnie Wilson and his brother Robert assigned their
music publishing rights for “Oops Upside Your Head” to a third party in 1978 but then terminated the grants of copyright in September 2016. The company that held the rights prior to termination was acquired by BMG in 2015. (Ronnie later died in November 2021.) After the terminations, the brothers’ two separate 3.4% shares of “Uptown Funk” are now owned entirely by their heirs, the lawsuit alleges.
The complaint claims BMG has “has failed and refused to pay plaintiffs or account to them for royalties they are obligated to pay plaintiffs pursuant to a written contract as co-writers of ‘Uptown Funk.’”
“Despite its obligations to account for and pay to plaintiffs their share of all income received from the ‘Uptown Funk’ musical composition, BMG has refused and failed to provide either the funds due to plaintiffs or an accounting, despite plaintiffs’ repeated demands therefor,” the lawsuit alleges.
The filing claims BMG also has refused to provide “sufficient documentation for plaintiffs to calculate the sum due them.” The lawsuit asks the court to order an accounting of money received by defendants pursuant to the 2015 settlement so the heirs can determine their alleged damages. It also seeks a trial to determine compensatory damages for the alleged breach of contract and wants the court to order defendants to pay that amount along with interest, costs and attorney’s fees.
“Uptown Funk,” the subject of multiple copyright controversies, was an international sensation, ruling the Billboard Hot 100 for 14 weeks.