Universal Music Group has recently been named as the defendant in a lawsuit filed in a U.K. High Court last month, according to a report by Variety. The case relates to Kanye West‘s 2010 hit single, “Power,” which borrows a sample from “21st Century Schizoid Man” by rock band King Crimson. Declan Colgan Music Ltd (DCM) owns the mechanical rights to the original recording of the King Crimson track, and per the suit, they allege that Universal Music Group (UMG) has been shortchanging them on streaming royalties arising from Ye’s song.
More directly, DCM says that West sampled “21st Century Schizoid Man” prior to obtaining the requisite license from them and then uploaded “Power” to YouTube anyway. The song was also featured on his triple-platinum album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy as well as in numerous commercials and marketing campaigns for movies, video games, TV shows, and more.
DCM contacted UMG and Ye’s production company Rock the World, when they realized the violation. Two months later, the parties signed a contract to legally allow West to keep the “21st Century Schizoid Man” sample. However, DCM was to now receive a 5.33% royalty on each copy of the song that was purchased or “otherwise exploited.”
“And under the terms of West’s [contract] with UMG at the time,” the suit also states, per Variety, “the royalty figure for a streaming track was equivalent to that of a track on a physical CD,” and that UMG “has failed, and continues to fail, to comply with its royalty accounting obligations in respect of one mode of exploitation.”
Essentially, DCM contends that because streaming was not explicitly mentioned in the agreement at that time, UMG has knowingly capitalized on the loophole and used it to give less money to DCM on digital streams and deceptively fulfill the contract. DCM is looking to receive all owed and unpaid royalties, per their calculations, along with interest. Furthermore, they are asking the High Court to issue new rulings on how digital streams should be calculated. Neither UMG nor DCM has responded to the request for further comment from Variety.
This lawsuit is only one of the most recent examples of how songwriters, record companies, publishing houses, and more are fighting to determine their futures in the changing landscape of media. This is key since many existing contracts address physical media but may have failed to account for the increase in digital product consumption, especially with regard to ownership versus licensing.