Sony Sued, Accused of Racism over Record Contract Breach

Timothy Grimes, better known as Wise Intelligent, has sued Sony Corporation, Sony Corporation Of America, Sony Entertainment Inc., and their Vice Presidents Julie Swidler and Wade Leak  for failure to pay royalties and for acting with gross negligence and intentional misconduct (Grimes v. Sony Corporation et al 1:19-cv-10644). Grimes, under his stage name, was a member of the Poor Righteous Teachers (PRT), a hip-hop/rap group in the ’90s. The complaint stated the he held the copyright for the band’s lyrics. The complaint explained how the band was originally signed to Profile Records, which through a series of mergers and acquisitions became a part of Sony Entertainment.

The complaint said the agreement the band signed with Profile Records was a long-term adhesion agreement which Kevon Glickmon, PRT’s attorney, was unable to negotiate. PRT had four successful albums at Profile Records. These albums were sold along with the recording company to Arista Records, which was later acquired by BMG, which itself was acquired by Sony in 2004. The plaintiff believes that the publishing rights and interests for PRT were sold or assigned by Profile to Universal Publishing, but was never given any notice of the change.

The complaint alleged that Sony is now responsible for Profile’s end of the agreement, which includes making payment of publishing royalties to Universal, so that Universal will then pay the plaintiff. Glickmon supplied copies of the recording agreement and royalty provisions multiple times when Sony claimed not to have the necessary information and continued to ignore their responsibilities to Grimes and the band as a whole.

Citing emails between Glickmon and various executives at Sony, the complaint stated that PRT terminated the agreement after Sony repeatedly failed to act on any of the claims that had been made to them, after which a phone call between Leak and Glickmon led the latter to believe they were in agreement about Sony’s failure to fix its breech of contract.

Sony is still making use of PTR’s music, despite termination of this contract.

The complaint alleged that this behavior is part of a pattern at the company of exploiting black, poor and powerless artists who cannot afford to fight Sony indefinitely.  It specified that this conduct is designed to take “every penny possible from poor artists of color who do not control the licensing rights on the intellectual property. Swidler worked as an attorney at Arista and BMG before they were acquired by Sony and should therefore have had knowledge of PTR. Among other duties, Leak is the Ethics and Privacy Officer at Sony Entertainment.

The complaint contains counts of conversion/theft, copyright infringement, contributory copyright infringement, vicarious copyright infringement, common law copyright infringement, breach of contract, unjust enrichment, negligence, breach of implied covenant good faith and fair dealing, breach of fiduciary duty, declaratory judgement, permanent injunction, constructive trust, and prima facie tort, for which the plaintiff is seeking an amount determined by the trier of fact, plus punitive damages and attorney’s fees, injunctive measures, and the right to an accounting of the Defendants’ books. Timothy Grimes is being represented by Verner Simon.