System of a Down wins 'B.Y.O.B.' royalty case

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System of a Down wins 'B.Y.O.B.' royalty case

Tue May 25, 2010 @ 11:08AM PST

By Eriq Gardner

System-of-a-down We feel bad for the judge who had to figure out how the Grammy-winning song "B.Y.O.B." by System of a Down was created.

A dispute arose over the song's authorship and, as New York District Court Judge Robert Sweet notes at the beginning of a decision holding that the band doesn't owe royalties, figuring out how the song was born meant probing the nearly decade-old memories of a few quarreling musicians, who at the time of the song's inception, were under the influence of "mind-altering substances."
The plaintiff in the case was Maxwell Music Limited, a U.K. music publishing company that claimed co-ownership in the hit song after being assigned rights to the works of Casey Chmielinski, who fronts the band Amen.

Chmielinski met System of a Down guitarist Daron Malakian when their respective bands were playing a music festival in Australia in January 2002. After a chance encounter between the two in Los Angeles later in the year, they started hanging out and using drugs. Malakian signed Chmielinski as the first artist to his record label, EatURMusic.

The relationship then cooled, and Malakian alleged that Chmielinski owed him money for advances for Amen recordings. Their last conversation in 2005 allegedly had to do with a 2% songwriters share for Chmielinski's contribution to "B.Y.O.B."

Chmielinski felt entitled to more, and in bringing the lawsuit, Maxwell Music was looking for a declaration of joint authorship. Both sides presented their own story about the "jamming" session in 2002 that led to the creation of the hit single. The judge analyzed the music from the jam sessions and found that, other than the first line of the chorus, opening guitar riff and bridge section, no other portions appeared on the final version.

In his decision, Judge Sweet goes into detail about the process by which songwriters create songs and then inform their publishers about contributions to the authorship. The case was hard fought by attorneys at Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal for the plaintiffs and Pryor Cashman for the defendants, but the judge found fabrication in some evidence presented by Chmielinski, and ruled in the band's favor.

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The Hollywood Reporter
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 Matthew.Belloni@thr.com

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