Bizarre Universal Music lawsuit: Who is scamming who?

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Bizarre Universal Music lawsuit: Who is scamming who?

Fri Jul 17, 2009 @ 02:32PM PST

By Eriq Gardner

Metzgar5 Some musicians are so hungry to get their albums distributed that they will do almost anything, including pay those who promise to make it happen. Desperation breeds scam.

Today's big question: Who is scamming the good musicians of Tennessee?

On Wednesday, Universal Music Group filed a lawsuit against a Nashville individual named Robert Metzgar (right). In the complaint, UMG alleges that Metzgar has been signing up artists to a record label called Platinum Plus Universal Records that falsely advertises an association with UMG. The lawsuit claims that Metzgar has been misrepresenting himself to artists, many of whom have stormed into UMG's Nashville office claiming to be owed as much as $100,000.

UMG also points to several websites maintained by Metzgar, including, which have posted messages such as, "Get ready to spend some money if you want to capture the attention of a manager, record label, or entertainment law firm. Being a star is not cheap!"

We contacted Metzgar, who tells a very different tale: He says he's the victim of extortion and blackmail on the part of a top executive at UMG.

Metzgar says he's a musician in a band called the Smokey River Boys that's signed to Platinum Plus Records, a division of Universal. (He sent us the band's distribution agreement with Universal although we haven't yet been able to confirm its veracity.) Metzgar claims the division was started by Bob Zipkin, claimed to be the senior vp of UMG's special products division.

In 2003, Metzgar says Zipkin began to demand money, song-writing credits and a share of the band's revenue. "I paid because he told me to," he says. "I never questioned it because I was so happy to have my albums out there."

Metzgar says that he had a heart attack and had six bypass surgeries that year. Later, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer and, because of the rising health bills, he had to stop payment to Zipkin. That's when Zipkin "got furious," he says, pulling the band's album from Walmart and promising to hurt him.

Metzgar says he has a separate label but has never used Universal's trademark nor advertised affiliation for the purpose of signing musicians. (You be the judge.) He claims to have not seen the latest lawsuit, but dismisses the charges as baseless. He believes that other musicians signed to Universal's Platinum Plus Records have similarly been forced to pay money to Universal's Zipkin

Is Metzgar a world-class story teller or has someone else been pulling his chain? So far, we haven't been able to get UMG's reaction to Metzgar's claims or confirm the existence of Bob Zipkin, but we'll post an update soon. 

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The Hollywood Reporter, Esq. blog focuses on how the entertainment and media industries are impacted and influenced by the law. It is edited by Matthew Belloni with contributions from veteran legal reporter Eriq Gardner and others. Before joining The Hollywood Reporter, Belloni was a lawyer at an entertainment litigation firm in Los Angeles. He writes a column for THR devoted to entertainment law. Gardner is a New York-based writer and legal journalist. Send tips or comments to

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