Trending Topics

Producers of Whitney Houston Biopic Wanna Dance Away from Legal Woes Over Unpaid Song Rights

The producers behind the 2022 biopic “Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” directed by Kasi Lemmons, are facing a legal battle over alleged evasion of payment for more than 20 of Whitney Houston’s songs featured in the film. Sony Music Entertainment has filed a lawsuit in New York federal court against several media companies involved in the production, including Anthem Films and Black Label Media, Billboard reported.

LAS VEGAS, NV ? SEPTEMBER 15: Singer Whitney Houston is seen performing on stage during the 2004 World Music Awards at the Thomas and Mack Center on September 15, 2004 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

The legal dispute revolves around sync license agreements that were purportedly signed for the use of Houston’s iconic tracks like “The Greatest Love of All,” “I Will Always Love You,” and “I’m Every Woman” in the film. Despite these agreements, Sony Music claims it has not received the agreed-upon payments even more than a year after the movie’s release.

Naomi Ackie, who starred as Houston, extensively lip-synced to the late singer’s recordings in the film.

A music synchronization license, often abbreviated as “sync,” is a legal agreement obtained from a band or musician. This license permits a third party to synchronize, or “sync,” the music with various visual media such as film, television, advertisements, video games, and movie trailers.

Christine Lepera, a lawyer representing Sony Music from the firm Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp, stated in the legal complaint that Anthem Films, among others, had failed to fulfill their financial obligations under the agreements. The lawsuit alleges that Anthem Films and associated entities had engaged in “willful and deliberate infringement” of Sony’s copyrights by utilizing Houston’s songs without proper compensation.

“To date, Anthem has not paid the fees, or any portion of the fees, due under the agreements,” Lepera wrote in the complaint.

The companies allegedly signed a sync license deal on Dec. 5, 2022; the film hit theaters on Dec. 23, 2022.

Musical biopics tend to heavily rely on the subject artist’s music to convey their creative genius and unique contributions to the industry. Sony Music argues that the importance of Houston’s music in telling her life story necessitated proper authorization, which the production entities purportedly failed to secure adequately.

The legal dispute further unraveled when Sony approached Anthem Films regarding the overdue payment, only to be informed that the delay was due to awaiting a tax credit owed by the state of Massachusetts. However, Sony contends that this explanation does not absolve the defendants of their responsibility to honor the sync license agreements and compensate for the use of Houston’s recordings.

“Unlike other types of films, musical biopics by their nature require use of the subject musician’s music, as it is nearly impossible to explain the importance of a musician’s creative genius or unique style and talent without the use of the musician’s music,” Sony Music stated. “Aware of the need for authorization to use Plaintiffs’ sound recordings in order to produce a biopic about the life and music of Whitney Houston, and aware of the value of plaintiffs’ catalog, Anthem entered into a license agreement.”

The lawsuit names several entities as co-defendants, including Anthem Films, NYBO Productions LLC, Black Label Media, and its successor company, WH Movie LLC. The complex corporate structure surrounding the production is highlighted as a potential factor contributing to the lack of payment and subsequent legal ramifications.

In response to the lawsuit, a representative for Black Label Media told Billboard that the company, being one of many investors in the film, should not have been implicated in the legal action and anticipates being dismissed promptly from the case. The other defendants named in the lawsuit have yet to provide public statements regarding the matter.

Unlike Houston’s chart-topping music, the film didn’t fare as well. “I Wanna Dance” had mixed reviews and grossed just $59.8 million.

What people are saying

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Back to top