Action claims company withheld royalties.

Songwriter Giuseppe "Beppe" Canterelli has filed a class-action lawsuit against EMI Music Publishing, alleging that the company engages in unfair business practices by failing to promptly pay out unclaimed royalties it holds in a so-called suspense account.

The suit, filed July 9 in Los Angeles Superior Court, seeks unspecified damages. It charges that EMI Music Publishing "does not make reasonable efforts" to track down songwriters or estates that are owed money. It further alleges that the company ultimately keeps "significant portions" of the unclaimed money it keeps in suspense for itself.

An EMI spokesperson declined comment.

Canterelli's attorney, Anthony Konarens of Spellberg & Kornarens, could not be reached for comment by press time. Canterelli, described as a California-based songwriter whose compositions have been administered by EMI for 10 years, is the only party currently listed in the suit.

The suit comes in the wake of a settlement with the New York State Attorney General's office earlier this year in which the five major labels and the Harry Fox Agency agreed to pay $50 million in unclaimed recording and publishing royalties to thousands of artists and songwriters.

The labels have already disbursed more than $25 million to artists and songwriters; an additional $25 million is expected to be distributed. Individual payouts to artists have ranged from hundreds of dollars to more than $200,000.

The settlement was the result of a two-year investigation by State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer that found that many artists and writers were not being paid royalties because the record companies and Harry Fox had failed to maintain contact with the artists or their estates and had stopped making required payments.

The problem was characterized primarily as one of not maintaining accurate contact information.

Under terms of the deal with the New York State Attorney General's office, the majors and Harry Fox have agreed to list the names of artists and songwriters owed royalty payments on company Web sites and to post advertisements in music-industry publications explaining procedures for claiming the royalties.