The heirs have been seeking half the royalties from foreign sales of his music. Their 2010 suit alleges breach of the 1961 standard songwriter royalty contract. Ellington signed the deal with Mills Music, predecessor of EMI, now part of global Sony/ATV Music.
The contract calls for an even split of net revenue.
EMI deducts 50 percent commissions to foreign subpublishers, which it now owns, before splitting the rest with the heirs.
The heirs challenged that practice, but the Court of Appeals says the publisher can keep doing it.