02/3/2011 4:49 pm  #1

Another legal battle!

Courthouse News Service of March 2 has the following. Poor Kathryn and her family must be fed up with legal wranglings!

UMG Wants Bing Crosby’s Widow’s Company Enjoined from Selling Christmas Album

     LOS ANGELES (CN) - UMG Recordings claims HLC Properties, “a partnership controlled by Crosby’s second wife, Kathryn Crosby,��  violated a 1943 agreement giving Decca/UMG exclusive rights to Crosby’s Christmas songs, including “White Christmas.�� 
     UMG claims that HLC has “clear knowledge of the re-recording restrictions in the 1943 agreement,��  but released its Christmas album anyway, containing some of Crosby’s most popular songs, including “Adeste Fidelis,��  “The Christmas Song,��  “Silent Night,��  and other chestnuts.
     Crosby’s version of the Irving Berlin tune “White Christmas��  has been called the top-selling single of all time, with more than 50 million discs sold, and the top-selling song of all time, with more than 100 million sold, as singles and albums.
     UMG says HLC breached contract and breached faith and fair dealing by releasing its own, competing version of the Christmas tunes. It wants distribution of HLC’s “The Crosby Christmas Sessions��  enjoined, and damages. It is represented in Superior Court by Steven Marenberg with Irell & Manella.
     Kathryn Crosby is not named as a party.


02/3/2011 6:31 pm  #2

Re: Another legal battle!

Oh, dear.

The war continues. As one who has no understanding whatsoever of royalties and certainly no understanding of the ins and outs, the rights and wrongs, ethical, legal, or otherwise, I find this very depressing.  Surely the recordings included in the Collector's Choice CD cannot in any way be likened to the original studio versions?

They were made at a different time for a different purpose. One set was of studio recordings, the others made, much later, for radio broadcast.  Can UMG really claim any rights in them? They were not made by UMG or for them. They do not possess the physical recordings and so far as I know they have not previously made claims to them.

They represent different periods of Bing's professional life. The issue from Collector's Choice was one of a sequence taken from radio broadcasts and much of the market was  probably from those who wanted them as representative of the broadcasts and/or of the period in question.

Anyone interested in the slightest in Bing would already have had the original studio versions, probably in abundance.  'White Christmas' was after all by far Bing's best selling song and the others named invariably accompanied it on numerous albums. It is difficult to avoid one or other of them on dozens - possibly even hundreds - of Christmas compilations.

I would find it difficult to see where UMG think their losses might arise. Would the non - issue by Collector's Choice have resulted in an increase in UMG sales of the original studio version?  That would be a pretty extraordinary proposition. It might even be that the existence of the issue and the accompanying publicity will have enhanced any sales that UMG might have had, but realistically, how many would want to buy when they already have them? Far better if UMG tackle some of the other neglected material which they have. 

UMG seem to want to jealously protect 'rights' but not then to capitalise appropriately on them.  'I've got it, you can't have it, but by the way, you can't have any substitutes either'.

Their pathetic effort at reissueing White Christmas with Bryn Terfel as an added duettist seems to have failed miserably to live up to their billing, but is perhaps indicative of the fact that there is little headway to be made with the studio recordings of these particular titles.

Edited to correct a couple of grammatical errors.

Last edited by Richard Baker (03/3/2011 9:29 am)


02/3/2011 7:00 pm  #3

Re: Another legal battle!

According to the post, Bing in his contract "...exclusive rights to Crosby’s Christmas songs, including “White Christmas..." I don't think it refers to any Christmas songs, but any titles recorded for Decca. Without checking, I'm not sure but I do not believe any of Bing's post Decca Christmas recordings (for release as singles or LPs) duplicated Decca titles. I seem to remember somewhere Ken Barnes mentioning a desire at one point to include "White Christmas" on the "Seasons" album, and relating Bing's response as they would have to get approval from MCA, which he did not feel they would grant. I don't think it was just Christmas songs, as for the same album, I believe they had to get permission to redo "June in January".

As fans, we want to see materials released, but if they own the rights, a company's job is to protect their rights. Sinatra recorded many of his hits/songs for different labels, but he never signed a contract promising not to rerecord them.


02/3/2011 11:00 pm  #4

Re: Another legal battle!

Mr. S did have some small issue during the Capitol/Reprise wars of 1960-1963. I believe he agreed not to record anything done on Capitol for a limited period. Hence the 10th LP from Reprise he released "Sinatra's Sinatra" had several Capitol era recordings redone in stereo.

All the best,
Paul M. Mock

03/3/2011 9:25 am  #5

Re: Another legal battle!

JoeM wrote:

According to the post, Bing in his contract "...exclusive rights to Crosby’s Christmas songs, including “White Christmas..." I don't think it refers to any Christmas songs, but any titles recorded for Decca. .

As I said, I don't know and do not claim to know much about copyrights and royalties, but from the ethical point of view can it possibly be right that a work of art should be withheld from the public by an agreement relating to another, albeit similar, work of art by an agreement made 68 years ago, or that the family of the artist should be prevented from capitalising on it?

And is it really likely that UMG have experienced any loss? Or do they claim a share in profits over an item to which they have in no way contributed? Again I am taking an ethical point and I realise that law and ethics do not necessarily agree. 

It does seem to me that the case is in some way a matter of tactics - a spoiler.


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