Disco-Punk Legends Sue for ‘Chef’ Film Royalties

MANHATTAN (CN) – Alleging unpaid royalties for the use of its music in the film “Chef,” among other vehicles, the influential yet obscure 1980s disco-punk group Liquid Liquid has brought a federal complaint.

Part of the “no wave” era, New York-based Liquid Liquid was known for putting cowbells and marimbas in the very front of their postpunk dance songs.

Stiletto Entertainment, the company named as a defendant to the band’s Aug. 15 complaint, is described as a cruise ship entertainment producer. Inglewood, California-based Stiletto also enjoys exclusive representation of crooner Barry Manilow. The company has not returned a request for comment.

Liquid Liquid says Stiletto acquired the master license to a collection of its songs in 2004 through the bankruptcy of Grand Royal Records. In 2014, according to the complaint, Stiletto licensed the band’s biggest hit, “Cavern,” to Universal Studios and other third parties for the film “Chef.”

“Cavern” appeared in the Jon Favreau romantic comedy itself, and in the movie’s promotional trailer and its soundtrack. Liquid Liquid says Stiletto has been distributing several other of its songs digitally and on CDs, using platforms like iTunes, Amazon.com and Spotify.

The band allegedly put Stiletto on notice back in 2006 about material breaches of the master license, specifically the failure to provide accounting statements or pay royalties.

Liquid Liquid says its repeated demands for an accounting led Stiletto to send “two perfunctory spreadsheets” in mid-2015.

Though these spreadsheets identified accrued royalties of about $2,000 each for CD sales and royalties between mid-2008 through 2014, Liquid Liquid says Stiletto had not paid any royalties up to that point.

Liquid Liquid says it sent Stiletto a letter on Dec. 21, 2015, “rescinding the Master License based on Stiletto’s willful and material breach of the agreement.”

Stiletto allegedly mailed a check to Liquid Liquid the next day, “tendering $4,066.66 for “Physical & Digital Royalties 2008-2014 Liquid Liquid.”

Liquid Liquid says it promptly returned Stiletto’s check, however, and reaffirmed its rescission of the master license.

“Stiletto has also failed to provide Liquid Liquid with any accounting statements for the accounting periods ending in March 31, 2015, September 30, 2015, for the entirety of 2016, and what has transpired of 2017,” the complaint states.

When Stiletto licensed “Cavern” for use in “Chef,” the band says the licensing was done “without securing the necessary licenses, permissions, consents, and authority of Liquid Liquid.”

“Among others, Stiletto did not have the right to issue a synchronization license under the Master License, nor did it have the right to issue a license for use of the master recordings outside of the United States and Canada,” the complaint states. “‘Chef’ earned substantial revenues outside of the United States and Canada.”

More recently in 2015, according to the complaint, Stiletto licensed various protected Liquid Liquid works to a company called Superior Viaduct that “re-issued Liquid Liquid’s first three EP albums on vinyl.”

“Upon information and belief, Stiletto’s conduct was undertaken purposefully, willfully, knowingly, maliciously, and without regard to the inevitable damage certain to result to Liquid Liquid,” the complaint states.

In addition to damages, Liquid Liquid wants an injunction to keep Stiletto from infringing the band’s copyrights in any manner, including via synchronization licenses that permit the use of Liquid Liquid’s master recordings in third-party movies, trailers, television programs and advertisements. The group is represented by Peter Scoolidge with the firm Scoolidge & Kleiman.

Liquid Liquid’s singles were originally released by the short-lived but hugely influential label 99 Records, based out of Greenwich Village. 99 Records released similar rhythmic and danceable postpunk records by other New York acts including ESG and the Bush Tetras.

In 1983, Grandmaster Mellie Mel’s anti-cocaine track “White Lines (Don’t Don’t Do It) featured a bassline sampled from a performance of the Sugar Hill house band (featuring bassist Doug Wimbish) covering Liquid Liquid’s “Cavern,” bringing bigger exposure to the song, as well as a legal battle with the infamous Sugar Hill Records over the sample.

Though the group’s original run ended in 1983, Liquid Liquid opened farewell shows in 2011 for modern New York City dance-punk tastemakers LCD Soundsystem.

“Cavern” was re-released in 1997 by Grand Royal, a boutique imprint curated by fellow New Yorkers, the Beastie Boys, as a track on Liquid Liquid’s self-titled album and distributed via regular distribution channels.

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