Grammy-nominated producer Michael Stokes has filed a lawsuit against numerous major music industry entities for copyright infringement, conversion and intentional interference with prospective economic advantage, unfair business practices, unjust enrichment and financial elder abuse.
Stokes, also known as a composer, writer, musician and publisher, has worked with the likes of Tina Turner, Whitney Houston, Prince and Earth Wind & Fire, while his music has been sampled and used by Rick Ross, Jay-Z, Ne-Yo, LL Cool J, Kendrick Lamar, Wiz Khalifa, French Montana and more.
In a lawsuit filed Tuesday in United States District Court in California, Stokes calls out Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, The Bicycle Music Company, Kobalt Music Group and Concord Music Group.
In 2010, Stokes suffered a stroke that “incapacitated him and rendered him unable to manage or supervise the musical empire he had created over the course of several decades,” the complaint, obtained by Rolling Stone, says. While he was incapacitated, Stokes claims his signature was allegedly forged on several documents that moved his copyrights and attendant rights over to the former Music Publishing Company of America (MPCA). The suit claims that MPCA then sold or transferred said rights to Bicycle Music Company, where “substantial income” was earned in a fashion that Stokes’ attorney, Paul Phillips, is considering knowing and unlawful. (Bicycle would subsequently be absorbed by Kobalt and Concord.)
According to the suit, UMG, Warner and Sony eventually went on to “wrongfully [accept] income arising from Mr. Stokes’ copyright and attendant interests and [make] payments to defendants Bicycle, Kobalt and Concord on income arising from Mr. Stokes’ copyright and attendant interests.”
Philips argues that all of the defendants were made aware of said behavior and, despite that knowledge — and Stokes’ requests to cease accepting income and making payments — the defendants continued with their actions.
Philips, who represented Marvin Gaye III in the “Blurred Lines” action from inception through the conclusion of all appeals, and Stokes are claiming the willful misappropriation, unlawful licensing, copying, selling and exploitation of Stokes’ original works for financial gain. They’re asking that the amount of damages be determined in court, but he may also elect to seek $150,000 in statutory damages per willful infringement.
Philips also states that “Mr. Stokes is entitled to an award of exemplary damages in amounts sufficient to punish and make an example of defendants.” His attorney insists on Stokes receiving the defendants’ profits that were received as ill-gotten gains.
The suit also claims that the defendants “undermined Mr. Stokes’ efforts to preserve the economic business relationships and goodwill he spent decades forming and developing,” along with concealing facts relevant to his copyrights. Universal, specifically, was called out for concealing their knowledge of the situation.
Additionally, Stokes appears to be attempting to prohibit the defendants — alongside their partners and employees — from “directly and/or indirectly collecting any funds deriving from or arising in any manner related to any right enjoyed and/or owned by Mr. Stokes and protected by the Copyright Act…” There are no agreements pertaining to the funds they’re seeking, and that’s the problem, they say. According to Philips, those funds belong rightfully to Michael, and always have.
Reps for UMG, WMG, SME, Kobalt and Concord did not reply to requests for comment.