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HMV SALES DOWN AS MAMA BIDDER SPECULATION WIDENS
Nevertheless, HMV bosses were able to put a positive spin on their latest financials, pointing out that the 8.2% sales decline was better than the 13.2% fall they suffered in sales in the first half of the current financial year. They also added that tech product sales were up 51% in those stores where more floor space has been given to gadgets in the last year (I wonder if my sister's stylophone counted as a tech sale?).
HMV big cheese Simon Fox told reporters: "The continuing actions to focus the business and to expand our technology offering are beginning to show through. We are seeing a combination of a slowing of the decline in music and film, and acceleration in the growth of technology. Undoubtedly trading conditions and the consumer environment remain challenging, but we remain confident in HMV's future prospects".
That optimism is unlikely to be shared by many City types, especially those who remember that HMV suggested last year's disappointing pre-Christmas sales figures were an anomaly due to all the snow, and yet without any white Christmas this year's sales were even worse.
Though the planned sale of HMV's live division, the MAMA Group, should give the retailer a little room to breath and help Fox further develop his "look at all our gadgets" strategy. Which is good news. If you believe that strategy - rather than one that involved better integrating the firm's high street, live entertainment, digital and artist partnerships interests - is a winner.
Talking of HMV Live, as speculation about the sale of the MAMA Group continues, a number of big music business players were added to the list of possible buyers over the weekend. That Live Nation and Festival Republic would be tipped as potential bidders for the venue operator and festival promoter was predictable, though reports in the Sunday Telegraph that both Sony Corp and Warner Music are also considering bidding are more surprising.
A Sony Corp bid seems unlikely, though there would be a logic to Warner - now the baby major in recorded and published music - entering the live and management space, and some of its more interesting artist partnerships have been struck through their UK division. Though a race for MAMA between private equity (maybe backed by MAMA co-founder and CEO Dean James) and the existing big players in live music seems more likely.
Live Nation, of course, owns half of Festival Republic, and the two sister companies could bid together, the former for MAMA's venues the latter for the HMV division's festivals business. That said, Live Nation acquiring MAMA's London venue portfolio would cause all kinds of Competition Commission concerns.
Indeed, MAMA acquired its flagship venue, the Hammersmith Apollo, from Live Nation, when its rival was forced to sell it by competition regulators in order to get approval of its 2007 purchase of a slice of the Academy Music Group. Live Nation might argue that The O2, opened a few months after its 2007 AMG deal by rivals AEG Live, has altered the London live market, but getting deal approval would not be a foregone conclusion.
And while the Apollo is just one part of the MAMA pie, which also encompasses artist management, media and marketing interests as well as its venue network and festivals business, the Hammersmith venue will be key for many bidders, especially the existing players in live music.
Though, and this will depress most of you in CMU land, it's worth noting Live Nation and AEG's interest in the West London venue is more likely about the value of live stand-up than music. Comedy has become an increasingly important and profitable part of the live entertainment business in recent years, and the Apollo is synonymous with the boom in stand-up, thanks to the BBC's free promotion of both the brand and the big name comedians it routinely hosts via its 'Live From The Apollo' franchise. Bet you wish you'd all paid more attention to our sister title ThreeWeeks' annual coverage of emerging comedy talent now, don't you?
MARLEY ESTATE SETTLES ROYATLIES DISPUTE WITH UNIVERSAL
As previously reported, Marley's widow and nine of his children put their name to a 2008 lawsuit relating to five of the musician's albums, in which they accused Universal, as owners of Island Records, of underpaying royalties for the last ten years. The litigation also questioned Universal's ownership of the sound recording rights in the records.
On the latter point, a judge ruled in September 2010 in favour of Universal, reaffirming the major's ownership of the disputed records. But the royalties element of the dispute has rumbled on ever since, even though a judge encouraged both sides to try out of court mediation.
Much of the Marley estate's royalties dispute centred on what share the family should receive of digital revenues, which is, of course, a wider issue in the US record industry at the moment, with Rob Zombie, Chuck D and the estate of Rick Spring all claiming Universal has deliberately misinterpreted pre-internet record contracts in order to pay them a lower cut of digital revenues than they believe they are due. Though in the Marley case there was seemingly some conflicting contract terms which added to the confusion regards what royalties should be paid on digital income.
But either way, both sides have now reached a deal and a US federal judge in New York accepted that agreement and dismissed the Marley estate's lawsuit last week. Said judge, Katherine Forrest, was probably particularly pleased that an out of court settlement had been reached. She's relatively new to the judging lark, and was given the Marley v Universal case at random last November, but, according to the Hollywood Reporter, she faced accusations of bias from the Marley family because of her previous work as an intellectual property lawyer, including working on the LimeWire litigation for, among others, Universal Music.
SUGAR HILL VETERANS SUE UNIVERSAL
Robinson's widower Joe is leading the new litigation, with members of the Sugar Hill Gang, one of the first commercial hip hop outfits which Robinson created, and members of Moments, an earlier pop creation of Robinson's, also named as plaintiffs.
Universal Music acquired various catalogues originally owned by Robinson, including releases from both Sugar Hill Records and her earlier label All Platinum Inc, when the major bought Sanctuary Music in 2007. The current royalty dispute dates back to over decade before that acquisition though, from 1995 (which is before, I think, even Sanctuary controlled the catalogue). The lawsuit claims that Sanctuary and later Universal made "a substantial amount of money" from exploiting the recordings throughout the world, and "knowingly and wilfully" failed to account for or remit any royalties after 1995.
There have been various lawsuits over the years regarding the Sugar Hill and All Platinum Inc catalogues, and in 2008 former members of the Sugar Hill Gang sued the Robinsons over alleged unpaid royalties. The Robinsons themselves also spent much of the late 1980s in dispute with Universal forerunner MCA, arguably bringing to an end the Sugar Hill enterprise. Sylvia Robinson, of course, passed away last September.
Universal is yet to respond to the new lawsuit.
MICHAEL JACKSON'S DEATH CONTINUES TO KEEP THE US COURTS BUSY
As previously reported, Lloyds Of London is trying to get out of paying AEG $17.5 million to cover some of the costs the live firm incurred by having to cancel the 'This Is It' season after Jackson's sudden demise due to a drug overdose. Lloyds claims that AEG failed to provide key information about Jackson's medical condition, and his routine use of prescription medication, when taking out its insurance policy, thus rendering the agreement void. AEG does not concur.
When Lloyds went legal last June one of its complaints was that AEG had been withholding key documents that the insurer needs in order to assess the live firm's conduct when applying for insurance cover in early 2009.
Responding to the lawsuit late last year, AEG asked the judge hearing the case that he delay all proceedings relating to the Lloyds litigation - including the handing over of any documents - until after the conclusion of two other lawsuits relating to Michael Jackson's death, those being brought by both of the singer's parents against AEG. Katherine and Joe Jackson claim the promoter is in part liable for their son's demise because it hired Conrad Murray, the doctor who, the criminal courts have ruled, caused Michael Jackson's death through negligence.
Considering that motion last week, Judge Malcolm Mackey said that he was happy to delay the actual court hearing for the Lloyds case until after the Jacksons v AEG cases, but that didn't mean the live music firm couldn't hand over the documents the insurer requires to prepare its case in the meantime. He also appointed a referee to oversee the document exchange process.
Lloyds says it doesn't have a problem with the actual court hearing regarding its litigation being delayed until after the Jacksons v AEG cases, but welcomed Mackey's decision to grant access to all important documents in the meantime. It remains to be seen what course this squabble now takes, Mackey actually predicted this dispute would ultimately be settled out of court before any hearing could actually take place.
Elsewhere, and back to Murray himself, and the doctor has been asked to return his medical licence to the Californian Medical Board, as the body prepares to fully revoke it. Murray was licensed to practice medicine in three states, Nevada and Texas as well as California. After Jackson's death, he was allowed to continue to practice in Nevada and Texas, though the medical board of the latter banned him from administering anaesthetics. According to Reuters, the Nevada Medical Board is now also going through the process of revoking Murray's licence, though it's unclear what the position is in Texas.
Though, of course, Murray is currently serving a four year jail sentence, so is unable to use any licences in the short term anyway. And legal matters relating to medical licences are probably the last of Murray's worries at the moment, given that he's hoping to appeal his criminal conviction, plus there's still the matter of restitution and the aforementioned Katherine and Joe Jackson lawsuits to deal with.
And as of last week another lawsuit too, launched by a 100 of the late king of pop's fans who are suing for the "emotional damage" they suffered as a result of Jackson's death. It's an optimistic bit of litigation, but the lawyer representing the fans told the AFP: "It's similar to losing a childhood friend in a traffic accident. Because this death affects you, you have the possibility to file a suit and seek compensation". And before you start musing to yourself "those crazy Yanks", we should note the emotionally damaged and rather litigious Jackson fans are French.
So, more gloom for Murray. Though if it's any compensation to the incarcerated medic, the other doctor he believes should accept some responsibility for Michael Jackson's demise isn't having that great a time of it either. As previously reported, Murray's legal team reckons Jackson was addicted to prescription painkiller medication, which they say he received - unbeknownst to Murray at the time - from his long term friend and dermatologist Dr Arnold Klein.
It was that addiction, fed by Klein, Team Murray alleged, that resulted in Jackson suffering from acute insomnia, in turn resulting in their client administering the fatal dose of propofol. The allegations were never tested in court, though, because the judge hearing Murray's case deemed them irrelevant (not least because the painkiller in question wasn't in Jackson's system at the time of his death), and the dermatologist was not even called to testify. Nor has he been charged for any misconduct.
But the claims have nevertheless circulated outside the courtroom and, according to various newspaper reports, it's had a hugely detrimental affect on Klein's business, meaning he now makes in the region of $500 a day, rather than demanding daily fees of $25,000. Of course $2500 a week is still an OK salary, but not when you're used to a millionaire's lifestyle as dermatologist to the stars, and as a result the doctor now faces bankruptcy and has had to turn to celebrity friends for help to cover his legal costs.
That said, Klein claims that his current financial meltdown, although in part caused by unproven allegations regarding his treatment of Jackson, is really the result of his business associates embezzling millions of his money over the years, and some of his legal costs are being run up suing those associates. Though those accused of embezzlement, including the doctor's accountant Muhammad Khilji, deny any wrong doing, and say that the situation has occurred because Klein continued to live a millionaire's lifestyle even after his business collapsed following the death of Michael Jackson.
EMI SUES REDIGI
As previously reported, ReDigi enables people to resell their MP3s. The US-based tech company claims its technology can verify whether the MP3 being sold is legit, and will then wipe it from the seller's PC once it has been sold. The company also says that its service is simply a digital version of a CD resale website, and that the clause in US copyright law that allows the resale of CDs should also apply to digital. A similar service launched a few years back, called Bopaboo, quickly disappeared after complaints from copyright owners, but ReDigi insists that US copyright law is on its side.
Needless to say, the Recording Industry Association Of America does not concur, and last November the body issued a cease and desist letter to ReDigi. However the tech firm, having raised half a million in investment last summer, isn't in the mood to do any ceasing or desisting, hence EMI's lawsuit, reportedly filed with the New York courts on Friday. Needless to say, ReDigi plans to fight the litigation, telling Billboard: "It's a meritless case and we will fight it vigorously".
NAS PROMOTER KIDNAPPED OVER ADVANCE FOR CANCELLED SHOW
A promoter behind a cancelled Nas concert due to take place in Angola on New Year's Eve was kidnapped last week by one of the men who financially backed the event. According to TMZ, "concert impresario" Henrique 'Riquhino' Miguel, angry about the cancellation, kidnapped Patrick Allocco of AllGood Entertainment and his son, and demanded the return of the $300,000 advance paid to Nas and his support act Jemiah Jai and an additional $50,000 to cover his expenses.
For his part Nas was happy to pay back the $300,000, but didn't want to have pay the $50,000. He also wanted confirmation from Miguel that if the advance was returned he would not be subsequently held liable for any other losses relating to the cancelled show.
A statement issued in Allocco's name last week read: "The hope is that Nas and Jemiah Jai will return all of the monies that were wired to them immediately so that our ransom may be paid and our safe return to the United States may be facilitated".
It's thought that, after the involvement of the US Embassy in Angola, Allocco and his son were handed over by the actual kidnappers and are now staying in a hotel, but Miguel is likely to block their leaving the country until the matter has been resolved. Scary stuff.
ORIGINAL SUGABABES LINE-UP REFORMS
However, on account of some other Sugababes currently using that name, they'll have to think of something else to call themselves thanks to Buena's previously reported trademark application only entitling her to use 'Sugababes' on stationery and other paper-based products. Sebabagus has quite a nice ring to it, particularly if they decide to move into black metal.
Sadly though, a metal rebirth seems unlikely, given reports the reformed Babes plan to work with pop production types Xenomania. But they may well turn out some inventive pop, which would be nice. No deals have been signed yet, but talks are under way and are apparently progressing in a promising manner.
LOSTPROPHETS PLOT NEW ALBUM, DISS ROCK SCENE
Speaking last week to Zane Lowe, who premiered the group's new track 'Better Off Dead' on Radio 1, Watkins said the LP had been inspired by "frustration with other bands".
He continued: "That's why we started, it was like: 'Why is no one making decent music? We'll have to do it ourselves'. It's kind of the same thing [now], I'm fuelled by healthy competition. That's why we're coming back. The world needs us".
You can download a free copy of the aforementioned 'Better Off Dead' from Lostprophets' Facebook page: www.facebook.com/lostprophets
GRINDERMAN ANNOUNCE REMIX LP
BONOBO TO RELEASE REMIX ALBUM
With 'Black Sands Remixed' due for release via Ninja Tune on 13 Feb, you'll find a free sample in the form a download of Machinedrum's 'Eyesdown' edit here: www.bonobomusic.com
KANYE WEST CREATIVE CONSULTANT ON TOON FILM
A keen admirer of the classic Hanna-Barbera cartoon, West had already hinted via Twitter that he had worked in a creative capacity on the forthcoming flick. And producer Denise Di Novi has revealed that the rapper did, indeed, take a role in early discussions.
She says: "He was interested in creatively brainstorming what we were doing with the movie and what ideas he might have. It was a really friendly, preliminary conversation. He was going to think about it more and see if he got inspired visually. He's a very visual artist". It's not clear if the brainstorm will actually result in anything.
INJURED JASON DERULO PULLS UK TOUR
Posting this photo of himself in a neck brace on Facebook, Derulo wrote: "I fractured my neck doing tumbling and acrobatics for [my] tour! Always trying to push boundaries for YOU! Like my new chain?"
Meanwhile, a statement from the singer reads: "To all my fans who planned to come to the 'Future History World' tour, the pain of letting you down cuts me way deeper than this injury I've sustained. My fans mean everything to me, so I'm praying for a speedy recovery in order to perform for you in the near future".
One small consolation; ticket refunds for all cancelled dates are available at point of purchase.
ONE DIRECTION SHOW GOES ON DESPITE COACH SKIRMISH
According to reports the One Direction bus, with all five members of the 'X-Factor' boy band on board, was hit from behind by another vehicle. The boy band describe it as a "minor accident", but police and ambulance crews were called to the scene, and insiders say that, with three of the Directioneers complaining of bad headaches and modest back pain, the group were advised to cancel the show they were headed to in Plymouth, but they decided to go ahead regardless. You know, to keep those lovely fans happy. So well done them.
Though given one fan recently sent a Tweet to 'Xtra Factor' host and supposed Harry Styles girlfriend Caroline Flack, on hearing the boy bander was upset when she decided to go on holiday without him, that read "you broke Harry's heart... now we will broke your face..." perhaps they were just too scared not to perform. I mean with grammar like that, who knows what might have happened if the show had been cancelled.
PRINZHORN DANCEHALL ANNOUNCE SHOW
The duo will appear at London's 93 Feet East on 1 Mar. If you can't wait that long, view them here and now in the video for 'Clay Class' cut 'Happy In Bits'.
RADIO 1 PLANS SERIES OF NEW MUSIC EVENTS IN HULL
Zane Lowe, Nick Grimshaw, Annie Mac, Pete Tong and Trevor Nelson will all venture North for the festivities, which will come from various venues in the city, with new and newish talent set to play. Nick Grimshaw will also be joined by special guests from the worlds of "cabaret and comedy" for his stint on 26 Jan, so that's something for those Hullonians to look forward to. I think tickets will be dished out for free via on-air giveaways between now on 26 Jan.
And here's Radio 1's events man Neil Wyatt saying things: "Radio 1 will be kicking off a huge year of live music in style live from Hull, with some of the hottest new artists around joining the Radio 1 DJ family as we take over the city. We're looking forward to celebrating the city's thriving new music scene with a series of special free events from the city's best bars, clubs and venues - it's going to be big!"
BEYONCE GIVES BIRTH