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$8 Million Demand |for Lost Aretha Tapes

MANHATTAN (CN) - The producer of an Aretha Franklin concert says MTV Networks failed to distribute - and may have lost - the "invaluable" master tapes of a 2001 concert, costing it $8 million in anticipated revenue.

New Jersey-based BLD Productions says it spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to promote the concert for VH-1 Divas Live, and was to receive 40 percent of net royalties from recording sales, international sales, international rebroadcasts and other uses.

MTV Networks and its affiliate Remote Productions, Delaware-based subsidiaries of Viacom, were to hire a distributor to manufacture audio and video recordings of the concert for international and domestic audiences, according to the federal complaint.

"Defendants insisted on having exclusive control over distribution, but then did virtually nothing to produce and distribute the recordings, causing BLD and Ms. Franklin to lose millions of dollars in anticipated revenues," the complaint states.

"BLD and Ms. Franklin will lose millions more unless defendants engage a distributor (or allow BLD to do so), and otherwise perform their obligations under their agreements with BLD."

BLD says MTV has been dodging its distribution responsibilities because it has lost or misplaced the master tapes, which BLD calls "an invaluable treasure."

The company's inaction has caused the partners to lose out on profitable distribution opportunities, according to the complaint.

"BLD has asked defendant numerous times for the master tapes, but the requests have been ignored," the complaint states.

"BLD eventually learned that defendants could not locate the critical master tapes of the concert.

"Ms. Franklin and BLD do not know when defendants lost the master tapes or for how long they concealed this fact, or whether they ever found the tapes. Ms. Franklin and BLD do not know whether the master tapes still exist."

Franklin - a 21-time Grammy award winner - performed many of her classic hits at the Radio City Music Hall concert, including "Chain of Fools" and "Respect." The concert, which attracted 1.82 million live viewers, featured guest performances or appearances from Stevie Wonder, Mary J. Blige, the Backstreet Boys, Oprah Winfrey, Janet Jackson and others.

MTV recently claimed that it has the master tapes, but other artists who performed at the concert objected to their release, demanding unreasonable advances and royalties, according to the complaint.

BLD claims MTV would not reveal which artists are supposedly blocking the release.

Nor will MTV provide sales revenue information on limited sales of an international version of the concert, according to the complaint. BLD claims it is owed royalties on the sales of that tape, which "is not mixed, edited, or otherwise enhanced as a marketed video or audio tape is."

BLD seeks more than $8 million in damages, an injunction and orders for promissory estoppel and specific performance, alleging breach of contract and bad faith. It is represented by Martin Hyman with Golenbock Eiseman Assor Bell & Peskoe.

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