Songwriting Reverend Sues for Royalties

     HOUSTON (CN) – A songwriting reverend demands nearly $20,000 in royalties for two tunes that he claims a Gospel singer recorded without permission, in Federal Court.
     Demetrius McClendon sued Earnest Pugh, Pugh’s record company EPM Music Group, Pugh’s producer Kerry Douglas, and Douglas’ companies Black Smoke Music Worldwide and Worldwide Music.
     McClendon, the pastor at ONE Church in Midlothian, Texas, claims he has written more than 100 songs. He claims that in 2004 he copyrighted the two songs at issue: “Hosanna” and “I Trust You,” along with other songs.
     “During this time, Pastor McClendon maintained a friendship with a Gospel
     singer who[m] he had met in 1996,” according to the complaint. “Earnest Pugh was an up-and-coming singing sensation who created his own record company, EPM Music, in 2005.
     “Using this record label and an outside distributor, Mr. Pugh recorded his first album, ‘Earnest Pugh Live: A Worshipper’s Perspective,’ in 2006. Mr. Pugh then followed up with a second album, ‘Seasons Change,’ in 2008.
     “In 2008, Mr. Pugh became interested in two of Pastor McClendon’s songs, and decided that he wanted to include them on his upcoming third album, ‘Earnest Pugh LIVE: Rain on Us.’ The album was to be produced by Kerry Douglas, under the record label Black Smoke Music Worldwide, Inc. and co-produced by EPM Music Group Inc.”
     Pugh and company released his album on July 28, 2009, and it “peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Top Gospel Albums Chart” McClendon claims.
     “The album included Pastor McClendon’s two copyrighted songs, ‘Hosanna’ and ‘I Trust You’ as tracks No. 11 and 14,” the complaint states. “The album insert credits Mr. McClendon with both songs. However, Mr. Pugh and Mr. Douglas failed to do one thing – obtain Pastor McClendon’s permission.
     “By all accounts, the album was a resounding success, and to date has sold over 93,000 copies.
     “Upon learning that the album had been released with his songs on it, Pastor McClendon entertained the hope that at least his friend, Mr. Pugh, would make right the unauthorized use by ensuring that Pastor McClendon would receive the royalties that a songwriter typically receives.
     “Mr. Pugh assured him that Mr. Douglas, the driving force behind the album’s production, would make it right. As the album turned into a success, Pastor McClendon had every reason to believe that he would receive fair financial compensation for the unauthorized use of his songs.”
     McClendon claims he “had no reason at that time to disbelieve a friend and Gospel music singer, or a Gospel record producer.”
     But McClendon says months turned into years and no royalty payments arrived.
     “What Pastor McClendon did not know was that defendant Kerry Douglas,
     who was the driving force behind the album’s production and distribution, had no intention of paying Pastor McClendon any royalties, and in fact had lost several businesses for failure to pay his obligations to the state,” according to the complaint.
     Texas revoked the certificate for Douglas’ Worldwide Music Inc. in 2008 for failure to pay taxes, McClendon says. He claims that Douglas then incorporated Black Smoke Music in Texas, only to lose its certificate in 2011 for unpaid taxes.
     “Indeed, Kerry Douglas continues to carry on business as Black Smoke
     Music Worldwide, Inc. despite no valid corporate status. In September 2011, Mr. Douglas signed singer Christopher Brinson to the Black Smoke label for an album to be released in 2012,” the complaint states.
     McClendon says he sent a letter to Pugh and Douglas in April asking for his royalties.
     “As a conciliatory gesture, Pastor McClendon even offered to use the 9.1 cent mechanical royalty figure instead of the larger 1.75 cents per minute figure, requesting only payment in the amount of $16,930, instead of the $19,530 to which he is entitled under the law. Defendants did not accept Pastor McClendon’s reasonable offer, and this suit followed,” according to the complaint.
     McClendon wants more than $19,530 in royalties plus at least $3,000 in late fees, costs and fees and damages for copyright infringement.
     He is represented by Benjamin Geslison with Baker Botts.

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