1970s Bands and Lawsuits: The Bay City Rollers and Their Missing Millions.
The Bay City Rollers: Bye Bye Bankers…
Because my Punk and New Wave memoir, Bombed Out!, deals with Punk, 1970s & ‘80s bands AND the Law, I’m always interested when I read about the legal woes of bands mentioned in the book.
This article focuses on the Bay City Rollers, although at the outset, I have to say I can’t understand what the problem is here, nor why the band has been embroiled in outrageously long-drawn-out and painful legal proceedings in US courts for many years over its own massive, unpaid royalties.
The band is trying to claim royalties of around US$ 100 million, from their record company, Arista. But here’s the odd thing. Arista freely admits it is sitting on the cash in an escrow account, waiting – dead keen they (sometimes) say – to pay it to the band, but in reality they bring all kinds of legal moves to try to not pay it at all.
In the early 1970s the Bay City Rollers were the biggest band in Britain. They went on to sell over 120 million records, worth billions of pounds in today’s money, and became world-famous in the process. They were even called the biggest band since the Beatles.
Their fall from grace is shocking, and I’ll leave that for another time, but even if you weren’t a fan of the band back then (as I most certainly wasn’t) reading what happened to them (or most of them) afterwards, makes very grim reading.
So what happened to all the money they earned and all the royalties they were due on the back of their musical success?
As usual, some fingers point to their generally unpleasant manager Tam Paton, who, when he was still alive, claimed he’d only been financially naive, and had only failed to negotiate better contracts for them. He didn’t make off with any of their cash, he said.
It is almost certain that professional advisors, lawyers, accountants, investment people and record company flunkies would have taken a big slice of their earnings, as often happened to gullible and naive 1970s bands too.
But oddly enough, most of their money appears to be intact and held in trust for the band by their record company, Arista.
Arista (sometimes) claims it has been unable to pay royalties because there was no copy of the initial contract with the band and that the band have been feuding so long that they can’t agree who is owed what.
“The company continues to work in good faith with representatives of the Bay City Rollers to resolve this matter,” a record spokesperson said.
But that didn’t stop them trying to throw out the Rollers’ claim to the money in a US court.
In 2004, an in-house lawyer at Arista sent an e-mail to a television producer who was working on a TV documentary. He wrote that “infighting among the various members of the Bay City Rollers has made Arista legally unable to pay royalties to the appropriate parties. Arista has always stood ready to pay royalties whenever the Rollers were able to agree among themselves as to who are the appropriate payees.”
But when the Rollers eventually took Arista to court in 2007, the record company tried to hide behind a statute of limitations defense, claiming they didn’t have to pay them anything because the band’s claim was time-barred.
Suddenly that seemingly innocuous lawyer’s 2004 email meant that their claim was time-revived, as they had acknowledged the claim, and in 2011 (note the glacial timeline of the proceedings), a judge allowed the case to move forward in a partial victory for the band.
In 2013, another Rollers’ money-related lawsuit was raised in the US by three disgruntled former (and early) members of the band, who claimed they too were entitled to some of the Arista money. They attempted to sue the six Bay City Rollers plaintiffs, plus Arista, in a big money case, hoping to be included in any future payout from Arista.
The action failed, but that still leaves the Bay City Rollers’ royalties case against Arista to rumble on.
The record company admits to holding the cash, so if they really want to pay it over, why not pay it into court and let the court pay out interest accruing on it to the Rollers (Imagine what that amounts to on 100,000,000 $ per year), while they decide who the main beneficiaries should be. And surely as to that question, why don’t all potential beneficiaries agree to submit to a binding arbitration? Then there could be a formal award of percentages due, and the case could be completed before they’re all dead.
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