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Sony Music Sues Whitney Houston Film Producers Over Failure to Pay for Music

Sony Music Entertainment is suing the producers of the 2022 biopic Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody, accusing them of failing to pay for the more than 20 Whitney tracks that appeared in the movie.

In the suit, filed on Thursday, Sony Music claimed that the biopic’s producers, Anthem Films, Nybo Productions, and Black Label Media, entered a licensing agreement with the record company on December 5, 2022 and that payments for the use of the catalog were expected by July of 2023. (Sony redacted the specific cost of the license in the suit.)

Those payments never came, the company said, and Sony sent the producers multiple notices of failure to make the payments in August and October of 2023. Per the suit, after receiving the initial letter, Anthem told Sony they could pay for the music once they received a tax credit from the state of Massachusetts (where Anthem is headquartered), though based on this week’s suit, that evidently didn’t happen.

“As a result of Anthem’s failures, Defendants’ use of the SME Recordings in the Film has been unauthorized, and Defendants have had no legal right to use the SME Recordings,” Sony said in the complaint. “Despite being given notice of their infringing conduct, Defendants have continued to distribute and otherwise exploit the SME Recordings in connection with the Film without authorization.”

A rep for Sony declined to comment beyond the suit. Attempts to reach the defendant production companies were unsuccessful. In the listed causes of action in the suit, Anthem and Nybo were accused of direct copyright infringement, while Black Label Media was accused of vicarious copyright infringement.

Reviews on the biopic — which starred Naomi Ackie as Houston and Stanley Tucci as producer Clive Davis — were mixed, and the film went on to gross about $60 million worldwide.

“Defendants’ conduct has caused and continues to cause substantial and irreparable harm to Plaintiffs and the estate of Whitney Houston, while enriching Defendants at the expense of Plaintiffs and the estate of Whitney Houston,” the suit said.

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