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Chuck Berry sues karaoke firms

Rock 'n' roll pioneer asks for royalties on hits like ‘Johnny B. Goode’
/ Source: Reuters

Rock ’n’ roll pioneer Chuck Berry has sued three leading karaoke music distributors, claiming they sold sing-along versions of his most popular hits without paying royalties or obtaining licenses.

If he prevails in court, Berry, 79, stands to gain several hundred thousand dollars for each of his songs, including such hits as “Johnny B. Goode,” “Maybellene” and “My Ding-A-Ling,” his lawyer, Peter Haviland, told Reuters Wednesday.

His lawsuit filed  Monday names three leading karaoke distributors in North America -- UAV Corp. of Fort Mill, South Carolina, Madacy Entertainment of Montreal and Top Tunes Inc. of Hilliard, Ohio. Representatives from the three companies could not immediately be reached for comment.

A sing-along genre that originated in Japan largely as a nightclub novelty, karaoke has turned into a highly lucrative retail business as it increasingly moves from bar and restaurant lounges to family living rooms.

“There has been an increase in the volume of (karaoke record) sales. So it’s a lot more money we’re dealing with,” said Haviland, who also represents several copyright holders of lesser-known songs who filed similar actions in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.

The suits seek royalties that are alleged to have gone uncollected on more than two dozen songs in all.

Unlike many recording stars of his era, Berry owns all the publishing rights to his songs through his Isalee Music Co., his attorneys said.

“Karaoke is a growing profit center and a problem,” for the music industry, said Robert S. Meloni, co-counsel for Berry and the other plaintiffs.

A New York Times article in May estimated the collective revenues generated by karaoke record labels at $50 million a year.

As sales have boomed during the past five years, karaoke record labels seeking to keep their prices competitive have more frequently neglected to license songs from rights holders, Meloni said. Licensing is one of the major costs of producing karaoke records.