Grammy-winning singer/songwriter and guitarist Peter Frampton has filed a lawsuit against Universal Music Group alleging systematic underpayment of digital music royalties.
According to Nashville’s Tennessean newspaper, the musician, whose iconic double live album Frampton Comes Alive! was one of the biggest-selling records of the 1970s, filed suit in a Los Angeles federal court last Friday. Frampton, whose hits include “Show Me The Way,” “Do You Feel Like We Do” and “Baby, I Love Your Way,” is asking for half a million dollars in unpaid roylties and unspecified damages, claiming that his longtime label deliberately set out to pay him at a rate lower than specified by the terms of his contract.
Frampton signed a solo recording contract with A&M Records in 1971. The label has since been absorbed into Universal Music Group. The guitarist signed a number of extensions over the decades, and in 1998 he and A&M agreed on a contract settlement that would pay Frampton a 50 percent royalty on any licensed music – that is, songs that are licensed for TV, films or commercials.
Rapper Eminem’s producers won a court case earlier this year that set a legal precedent for artists who claim that music sold online is licensed, since its delivery requires none of the usual packaging, shipping and warehousing costs associated with traditional music sales. Under those terms, Frampton’s suit alleges that Universal paid him several hundred thousand dollars less than was owing on his digital sales.
According to the legal filing, Universal sent Frampton a check for $212,000 in December after receiving a legal notice from the musician’s attorney. The rocker’s suit claims Universal sent the check “with the hope that Frampton would be deceived into cashing the check and thereby potentially relieving UMG Recordings from further liability.”
The brief further alleges that Universal “systematically and knowingly” breached its contract with Frampton and other artists by “applying policies and practices at issue in this matter at its highest corporate levels.”
“The issues in these cases go beyond simply breach of contract,” said Frampton’s attorney Richard Busch, who is also representing Eminem’s producers and Felice Catena, the sister and heir to The Knack drummer Bruce Gary, in similar lawsuits. “The plaintiffs allege the wrongdoing here is a part of deliberate effort to deprive the parties of their royalties.”
Universal Music Group has not commented publicly on Frampton’s lawsuit.