Monday, September 25, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Monday, September 25, 2023 | Back issues
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Dispute Over Billie Holiday Recordings

MANHATTAN (CN) - The Estate of Louis McKay - Billie Holiday's husband - seeks an injunction to stop ESP-Disk and Bernard Stollman from alleged copyright violations. The estate claims to be the sole survivor of the great singer, who was born Eleanora Fagan Gough, and died at 44 in 1959, leaving no children and no will.

Holiday's husband, McKay, died in 1980. Plaintiff L. Mifflin Hayes was named executor and the Estate remains open, according to the complaint in New York County Court.

Billie Holiday, possibly the most influential singer of the 20th century, was the first great "microphone singer," exploiting the microphone to incorporate a tremendous variety of vocal nuance in her performances, and eschewing the classical manner of vocal production. She influenced virtually every popular singer who came after her.

According to the complaint:

McKay made a deal with the defendants in 1969, under which he got 9% of the wholesale price of all Holiday albums made and distributed by ESP, and 50% of "all sums received for exploitations of Holiday Live Recordings." The contract was amended in 1972.

ESP released "Billie Holiday Broadcast Performances" in four volumes, released them on vinyl in the 1970s and rereleased them as CDs from 2005-2007.

At some point in between, the Estate says, "ESP licensed others to manufacture and distribute the original albums," including "Billie Holiday - Rare Live Recordings 1935-39," a 5-volume set released as ESP Serial No. 4039.

In response to the Estate's request for accounting, Stollman wrote, in February 2008, that "none of the recordings were secured from McKay, and that all recordings made prior to 1974 are in the public domain, and therefore ESP is not required to pay royalties."

The Estate begs to differ. It demands damages for breach of contract, copyright violations, and unfair competition.

McKay's estate is represented by Oren Warshavsky with Baker Hostetler.

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