Sony Music Entertainment has settled a lawsuit filed by a Connecticut lawyer who said record company executives retaliated against him for winning higher pay for gospel music artists.
Stamford-based attorney James Walker Jr. sued Sony in federal court in Bridgeport in 2005. He claimed executives pressured some of gospel music's biggest stars, including Grammy winners Hezekiah Walker, Donald Lawrence and Twinkie Clark, into dropping Walker as their agent in an effort to reduce costs and retain control over the industry.
Sony and Walker filed a court document April 29, the day the trial was supposed to start, indicating that they reached a settlement. Terms weren't disclosed.
The company doesn't comment on litigation, a spokeswoman for New York-based Sony Music Entertainment, Liz Young, said May 1.
Walker called the settlement a victory for artists and their rights to effective legal representation and just compensation.
“It’s a victory because…the artists stood up,” Walker said May 1. “I think the level of awareness (of artists' pay) has been raised, and that's a victory.”
Walker filed the lawsuit against Sony Music Entertainment's predecessor, Sony BMI Music Entertainment, and three of its subsidiaries: record producer Zomba Enterprises, distributor Verity Records and distributor Provident Records. It also sued Verity Records President Max Siegel. Verity Records is now RCA Inspirational.
Walker said the company had been underpaying gospel artists for years and forcing them to sign contracts with terms dictated by the company, before the artists began using him and other lawyers to negotiate compensation.
Sony has also made more than $100 million over the years from the popular WOW compilation records featuring various gospel artists, but has never paid the artists, Walker said.
Walker said his success in winning higher pay for his clients cost Sony money and executives retaliated with an effort to slash costs. He said executives used "trickery and deceit" to convince artists to drop his services and warned them that the company wouldn't work with them or record their music if they retained Walker.
Walker said he lost a dozen or so clients because of the company's tactics.
“Often labels want artists to use attorneys that the labels can control,” Walker said. “This avoids paying the artists their worth and saves the labels millions of dollars and is clearly a conflict of interest. When you decide to tell untruths about this firm and threaten our artists, you have crossed the line.”
Walker said he plans to meet with Sony executives within the next two weeks to discuss new ways of doing business and compensating artists whose work appears on the WOW records.