Nina Simone's legacy will be coming to the silver screen soon enough in the form of a new documentary, but who truly controls her musical heritage has been the subject of lawsuits for decades, and the legal battles between Sony Entertainment, the vocalist's estate, not to mention several previous managers/lawyers have only gotten more confusing.
The parties involved: Andrew Stroud, Simone's former manager and husband, who received some degree of control of the performer's catalogue after they divorced during 1972. Then there's Steven Ames Brown, a lawyer who owns 40 percent of "recovered" recordings in his possession, due no doubt to tricky legalese he enacted while representing Simone. He has been working on behalf of the vocalist (who died in 2003) and negotiating with Song since the early '80s. Finally there's Simone's family, who also have a hold on some degree of her recordings.
Sony is working to cut through all of the murk so that it can make some money off of Simone's discography, no doubt with numerous box sets in mind.
The confusion got more muddled this week when Sony told a judge that it had gotten shafted by a previous deal, although it attempted to keep those negotiations a secret, telling the judge that if other recording artists find out about the unusual deal, its business would be in "significant danger."
The Hollywood Reporter uncovered details anyway: Sony was due to pay Brown $390,000, pay back $105,963 in producer costs for Simone, and then alter the royalty rate for her recordings (no specific rates given). In exchange, Sony would receive the rights to the recordings held by her estate and by Brown.
The problem: Sony just figured out that Brown only intended to give the label reproduction rights...or the right to place the recordings on albums and such. The problem: Without distribution rights, Sony can't actually sell those albums. It's what Joseph Heller might call a Catch-22.
Not that Brown is winning because of this...Sony can only pay him as soon as it starts selling Simone's recordings. Wah-wahhhhhhh.
Stay tuned...but this could drag on for years.