ATLANTA (CN) - The founder of best-selling R&B group TLC claims in court that Viacom defamed her in a movie that portrays her as "a conniving and dishonest business woman" who exploited the band members.
Perri "Pebbles" Reid sued Viacom in Federal Court.
Viacom owns and operates various film and television networks, including VH1, which broadcast the TLC movie.
Reid, of Atlanta, says she came up with a vision for an all-girl group in the 1990s, which led to the birth of TLC. She claims she promoted the group and nurtured its previously unknown members, helping them become a best-selling trio.
TLC rose to fame in the early 1990s, featuring a style that spanned R&B, hip-hop, soul, funk and new jack swing. Between 1990 and 2002, the band had 10 top-ten singles, four number one singles, four multi-platinum albums, and won five Grammy Awards. It has sold more than 65 million records worldwide. TLC released a few greatest hits and compilation albums after one of its members, Lisa Lopes, died in a car accident in 2002.
In 2013, VH1 released a movie titled "Crazysexycool: The TLC Story," which purported to tell the true story of the discovery and development of TLC, according to the lawsuit.
Reid says the movie and its promotional materials contained false and defamatory statements about her, which distorted her relationship with the band and tainted her reputation.
"The movie told a story of Ms. Reid as a conniving and dishonest business woman who hoodwinked three innocent girls and exploited their talent for her own personal gain and in the process negatively influenced their personal lives and deprived them of fair compensation," the lawsuit states.
Reid, who became a successful singer after releasing her first album in 1987, says she started the all-girl musical group partly to help her husband, Antonio "L.A." Reid, who had just launched a record label business.
Reid became the manager of TLC, which originally included Tionne Watkins, Lisa Lopes, and Crystal Jones, and she named the band after the girls' first name initials.
Antonio Reid's label, LaFace, initially declined to sign TLC, but "L.A." changed his mind when he heard his wife promote the band to another label, according to the complaint.
Perri Reid says she worked hard to promote the band, and put her own successful singing career on hold to turn them into professional singers.
Reid says she worked with the band for a year to prepare them for the recording and touring business, scheduled and planned their tours, handled art direction, wardrobes and marketing, and wrote, produced and edited TLC's videos.
After the band decided to replace Crystal Jones, Reid looked for a new member, and prepared contracts that the women eventually signed, according to the lawsuit.
Reid says she made sure TLC and its members had independent lawyers to represent their interests. Watkins and Lopes, as well as Rozanda Thomas, who replaced Jones, were represented by an Atlanta law firm, which had no connection to Reid or her business, according to the lawsuit.
Reid claims she had no control over TLC's attorneys or accountants, and that the band had complete ownership of their merchandising materials.
She claims the women signed standard industry contracts, which could be renegotiated to increase their revenue share before launching a second album.
Reid says she paid the group members the amounts due under their contracts, and sometimes more, looked after their personal needs, and sometimes paid TLC's expenses with her own money. She also negotiated TLC's deals with directors, photographers and vendors, saving the group hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Nevertheless, Reid says, TLC's members got greedy and tried to change their contract terms before the first album was completely released, which is unusual for new artists.
She claims TLC then conspired with the label to cut Reid out of the contract altogether.
In July 1995, TLC filed for bankruptcy, most likely as a ploy to be released from its contractual obligations to Reid, the lawsuit states.
The parties ultimately reached a settlement and Reid's relationship with the group ended.
"Ms. Reid had poured her heart and soul into the group for over five years and did not want to walk away from TLC or her personal investment in the group and its success and her vision that she created and developed," the complaint states.
"After plucking the individual members of TLC from obscurity, Ms. Reid groomed and shepherded them through the process of forming an extremely successful musical group.
"Ms. Reid made personal financial sacrifices for TLC, but she believed in what she and the members were building and was proud to be the creator of and visionary for the all-female musical group."
Reid says the VH1 movie distorts her role in the rise of TLC and her relationship with the band.
The film falsely shows that she tried to control the group's attorneys and accountants, that she underpaid the band members, and denied them access to their own contracts, according to the lawsuit.
Reid says she never asked group members to put the band before their health, and did not encourage or ask Thomas to have an abortion, despite the movie's insinuations.
"The false and defamatory publication fits VH1's modus operandi to assassinate the character of females, particularly African-American females, such as in other popular VH1 programs," the complaint states.
Reid says VH1 rebroadcast the movie several times, including during high viewership slots, and made it available online, reaching millions of viewers.
The movie's premiere attracted 4.5 million viewers, making it the highest-rated TV film premiere of 2013, and the highest-rated original film premiere in VH1 history.
Reid says the movie was initially promoted as the true story of the discovery and rise of TLC, but Viacom later called it a "fictionalized portrayal" of the events.
Viacom refused to publish a retraction or correction, according to the lawsuit.
Reid seeks more than $40 million in compensatory and punitive damages.
She is represented by L. Lin Wood with Wood, Hernacki & Evans.
Viacom did not respond to a request for comment.
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