Drummer of 'The Band' Sues Cingular Over Commercial

If you’re going to use someone’s song in your commercial, you might want to ask them first. Drummer of ‘The Band’ Levon Helm is suing Cingular, claiming that they did not get his written permission to use their signature song “The Weight” in a commercial. From BusinessWeek:

“It was just a complete, damn sellout of The Band — its reputation, its music; just as much disrespect as you could pour on Richard and Rick’s tombstones,” said Helm, 66, a longtime Woodstock resident.

Richard Manuel, vocalist and piano player for The Band, died in 1986. Rick Danko, who played bass, died in 1999.

The Band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994.

Helm was paid for the song’s use, but did not approve it. —MEGHANN MARCO

The Band drummer Helm sues over TV ad [BusinessWeek]


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  1. mopar_man says:

    Helm was paid for the song’s use, but did not approve it.

    Soo…uhh…why did he take the money?

  2. swalve says:

    It was probably included in his royalty check from ASCAP or BMI.

  3. SexCpotatoes says:

    It was probably the record label or whatever bastards selling the right to the song, without consulting him.

  4. joopiter says:

    While I think it’s not cool for a musician’s work to be used without his explicit permission, it’s hard for me to take his “it’s a sellout of The Band” line seriously as I know that The Weight has been used in at least one other commercial. I want to say it was a Levi’s commercial, but don’t quote me on that.

    Maybe the two dead guys outvoted him on that one, though.

  5. FreakyStyley says:

    If he accepted the money, isn’t that implied permission?

  6. royal72 says:

    that’s my guess as well sexcpotatoes, which brings us to the wonderful world of the riaa. it’s no wonder the myth of selling your soul for success has always been around the music business.

  7. John Stracke says:

    @SexCpotatoes: If his label sold the permission, then either they have a contract that lets them do so (in which case he’s out of luck) or they don’t (in which case he should sue them, not Cingular).

  8. y2julio says:

    @FreakyStyley: Cingular probably used it without his permisson but probably payed royalties of the song usage to this publishing company which then just sends him all the royalties from any song of his in one big check.

  9. LatherRinseRepeat says:

    Boo hoo. That’s what happens when you let record companies and lawyers control your intellectual property for you. He should be kicking himself for not taking more control of his own music and how it’s used.

    But I’m guessing that his record label owns the rights to all of his music anyways. So he should be lucky he even got some money out of it.

  10. RomeoPapaDelta says:

    Robby Robertson has all the songwriting credits for the Band.

  11. kimdog says:

    @RomeoPapaDelta: Yep, I’m sure Robby Robertson got the lions share of the royalties. If you read the article, it says that Levon got a fifth of half the royalties (that half probably being mechanical royalties). I’d bet that that Robby got a fifth plus the other half.

    @LatherRinseRepeat: The music industry was a different beast when The Band released Music From the Big Pink in 1968. You had to work with major labels… because that was the only way to get your music heard. Thousands of musicians are in the same boat; the labels own the rights to their music and if an artist wants them back they have to pay dearly.

  12. Craig says:

    Artists don’t have to give written permission for their work to be used by others unless they have the rights to their work, which as others have pointed out is hardly ever the case.

  13. Bye says:

    The distinction also must be made between synch licenses and master licenses. Both can be held by entirely different entities – though very typically the masters are held by a label.

    The entity involved with producing the commercial, in this case Cingular, is responsible for clearing not only the master use, but also the publishing (synch license).

  14. Chris says:

    The Band’s situation is an odd one. As RomeoPapaDelta notes, Robbie Robertson took songwriting credit on most of The Band’s songs. Helm spends a good deal of his autobiography complaining about that point (and convinced me, FWIW).

    Robertson has sole songwriting credit on “The Weight,” though I suspect Helm gets some royalties from whatever deal they all worked out with whatever music publisher they used back in the day.

    Helm doesn’t have the power to license (or not) the song. That’s why he’s suing in state (not federal) court, and why his claim is under a “right of publicity” statute.

    I’m not Levon’s lawyer, but I doubt he wins this one. If the right of publicity statutes were applied in this way (where only a properly-licensed song is used, and not the singer’s image or name), it would upend the entire recording industry and its relationships with film, TV, and advertising.

  15. popeye_doyle says:

    I don’t think you know very much about the relationship between musicians and record companies in the 1970s.

  16. Hellblazer says:

    Why is he just now suing? That commercial’s been airing for years.