Bob Dylan was hit by a lawsuit from the estate of songwriter Jacques Levy on Wednesday (January 20) demanding a cut of the proceeds from the sale of his catalog to Universal Music Group last month.
The buyout, conducted via Universal Music Publishing Group (UMPG), included more than 600 copyrights spanning 60 years, from 1962’s Blowin’ In The Wind all the way to Dylan’s 2020 release, Murder Most Foul.
Universal did not disclose the price of the deal, but expert industry sources told MBW in December that Dylan’s catalog would command a price-tag somewhere in the region of $300m to $400m.
UMG is also named in the suit.
Levy is described in the lawsuit as “a renowned songwriter and avant-garde theater director”, who wrote songs for the likes of Bob Dylan, The Byrds, Joe Cocker and others.
He collaborated with Dylan on 10 compositions including Romance in Durango, Catfish, Joey, Money Blues, Hurricane, Rita Mae, Mozambique, Oh Sister, Black Diamond Bay a Bedtime Story and Isis.
Seven of these songs were recorded and released by Dylan on his 1976 album Desire.
The claim goes on to allege that, as per a contract with Dylan, which they entered into “on or about July 28, 1975,” Levy is owed 35% “of any and all income earned by the compositions and actually received”.
It adds that prior to completing the sale, Universal “conducted due diligence in connection with the Catalog Sale and knew of the Agreement’s existence and the exact terms thereof”.
The lawsuit suggests that, based on estimates of there being 600 songs in the catalog at a sale price of $300m, the price per song is approximately $500,000 with a total price of approximately $5m for the 10 compositions.
Levy’s estate argues, therefore, that at 35% of $5m, its share of the sale is $1.75m “or in excess thereof”.
“The Dylan Defendants’ breaches were attended by such historic and repeated malice and abuse that they evince a high degree of moral culpability.”
Jacques Levy estate
In addition, the lawsuit argues that “the Dylan Defendants’ breaches were attended by such historic and repeated malice and abuse that they evince a high degree of moral culpability”.
Accordingly, Levy’s estate argues that it should be awarded $2m in punitive damages “in order to deter similar conduct from happening in the future and to punish the Dylan Defendants for their malfeasance and contractual breaches”.
It adds: “The conduct of the Dylan Defendants demonstrates reprehensible motives implying a criminal indifference to civil obligations”.
Including the $2m for punitive damages, the total award demanded by Levy’s estate works out to $7.25m: $1.75m for Breach of Contract against the “Dylan Defendants”, $1.75m for Breach of Contract against the “Universal Defendants” and another $1.75m for alleged “Tortious Interference With Contract” against the “Universal Defendants”.
Elsewhere in the lawsuit, which you can read in full here, Levy’s estate argues that the songwriter’s “legacy continually has been diminished and hidden by the Dylan Defendants since JL’s first collaborations with Dylan”.
Levy was hired to direct Dylan’s 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue tour, according to the suit, “but was never included on the program or posters for the Rolling Thunder Revue”, nor was he identified as director or songwriter in the 2019 film Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese.
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