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Composer Sues BMI in Multi-Million Dollar Case

Alexander C. Baker seeks to vindicate important rights for all songwriters and publishers

At its heart this is a very simple case: Defendant is legally obligated to pay Plaintiff royalties, and has stopped doing so without justification.

Plaintiff Alexander C. Baker (“Baker”) is a music composer and producer who has earned upwards of $1 million in performance royalties for the use of his music on TV shows over the last two decades. Plaintiff Adam Bravery LLC is a multi-member Limited Liability Company formed by Baker and two other partners in 2018 for the purpose of producing and commercially exploiting a music-driven animated motion picture.

Defendant Broadcast Music Inc., (“BMI”) is a Performing Rights Organization that collects and distributes performance royalty money to its writer and publisher members, such as Baker. Defendant Erika Stallings is an in-house counsel for BMI, and is believed to be the person directly responsible for fabricating a false pretext on which to withhold royalties from Plaintiffs, and for making the decision to actually withhold royalty payment.

On advice of his tax preparer, and with BMI’s knowledge and consent, in 2018 Baker assigned his BMI royalties to pay into Adam Bravery LLC, and began working as a salaried employee of the company.

BMI has a policy to withhold royalty money if two of their members dispute who should be paid performance royalties for a particular musical work or works. According to that policy, upon providing BMI with a copy of the relevant legal complaint, BMI will hold the money payable for performances of the disputed works until a court order or agreement between the disputing parties resolves the matter.

BMI has now made a decision to stop paying Baker’s royalties, supposedly on the basis of a dispute between Baker and his ex wife / ex co-writer, Clair Marlo. But the facts will show that no dispute exists regarding the proper payment of royalties. BMI has admitted in writing that “50-50” is the proper allocation of royalties between Baker and Marlo. Marlo has never alleged that she wasn’t being paid the proper amount.

Rather, Marlo previously alleged that Baker’s assignment of his own share of the royalties to an LLC somehow violated an order of the Family Court. Baker’s assignment of his own royalty money certainly does not violate the pertinent order, which order prohibits the assignment of “works”. Baker certainly did not assign any works. Indeed, Marlo challenged the validity of the assignment in an OSC Re Contempt action in Family Court, which OSC was dismissed, is non-appealable and may not be brought again. Even if there had been a dispute (which there was not), that dispute was finally resolved when Marlo’s OSC was dismissed.

Moreover, if BMI and Stallings actually believed there was cause for a dispute hold, then, according to BMI’s policy, they would withhold all of the royalty money payable on use of the disputed works. What BMI has done here is withhold the money due on Baker’s share, while continuing to pay Marlo. This is the precise opposite of how BMI’s dispute policy functions.

Plaintiffs will prove that BMI is liable for breach of contract. Plaintiffs will show that BMI owes Plaintiffs a fiduciary duty, and breached that duty. Baker will prove that Defendants first threatened to stop payment, then paid, then again threatened to stop payment, then paid again, then paid yet again, but reversed the charges and ultimately stopped paying. In light of that, plus the extreme imbalance of power between BMI and Plaintiffs, it all adds up to extreme and outrageous conduct sufficient for liability on a claim for Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress.

Baker will show that Defendants fraudulently induced him to rely on false statements that BMI would continue paying, knowing full well that they would stop. Had Defendants not made those false promises, Baker would never have withdrawn his motion to join BMI to the Family Law case, which joinder simply sought an order directed at BMI to obey the pending order equalizing royalties between Baker and Marlo.

Plaintiff asks the Court to declare that the Consent Decree’s mandatory arbitration is unconstitutionally violative of the Seventh Amendment. Because the Consent Decree under which BMI operates has all the force and authority of a federal statute, Plaintiffs seek a Judicial Declaration that BMI is a government actor for Section 1983 purposes, and that the Consent Decree’s mandate requiring BMI to accept any writer creates a federal right to collect performance royalties enjoyed by Baker and any other songwriter with at least one published work.

On those bases, Plaintiff will show that BMI acted under color of law to deprive him of his federally protected right to receive performance royalties.


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