November 15, 2012
By Tony Jones
Special to the NNPA from The Tri-State Defender
A federal court in Texas has granted Memphis-connected soul music legend Al Bell the rights to his iconic song “Whoomp! (There It Is).”
Described by The Hollywood Reporter as “one of the fastest selling songs in music history,” the verdict orders the music firm DM Records to pay Bell after it was established that the company was illegally licensing the use of the song.
In Memphis to give a speech on the opening day (Oct. 29) of the Berklee College of Music’s City Music Network Conference at the Westin Hotel downtown, Bell commented briefly on his victory.
“They kept trying to muddy the water to try to confuse the judge, hoping that I would get uptight and give up,” Bell told The New Tri-State Defender. “But what they did not know is I’m not the type to believe that a thing can’t be done. I’m from Memphis, Tennessee!”
DM bought the song as part of a Chapter 11 bankruptcy sale Bell underwent for his company, Bellmark Records. The sale included at least two other best sellers, “Dazzy Duks,” and Prince’s “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World.”
Bell retained licensing rights to the songs through his song-publishing firm, Alvert Music. Licensing permission and fees had to be approved by Alvert Music before anyone else could use the song. This meant that DM Records, or anyone else that had purchased Belmark, could sell the song but not re-sell it without Bell’s permission.
The judgment also carried a $2.5 million jury award to Bell, who had fought the case for decades in varied legal venues.
Bell said his experience in the industry fed his belief that he would eventually win.
“They were counting on the judges not understanding the complexity of song copyright laws. Like most people, they generally understand the legal basis of copyrighting itself, but the complications of song copyrights are entirely another matter, but this judge saw right through it all.”
The ruling established that as the song’s publisher, Bell was the only one with the right of resale to the tune.
Resale value is a big deal in the advertising and marketing worlds, where song licensing is a multi-billion dollar industry. For example, the 2011 ad campaign by AT&T was based on the public’s instant recognition of “Whoomp! (There It Is).”
DM Records attorney Richard Wolfe said the fight is not over.
“This is round one and there are many issues here,” said Wolfe. “Ultimately, this will be decided by a jury and an appeals court in New Orleans.”
Bell said he anticipated such a step. He vows to fight until the matter is settled by payment on his behalf.