Bob Dylan Blasts Catalog Sale Lawsuit for Seeking ‘Unjustified Windfall’
The estate of a Dylan co-writer wants a court to revive a lawsuit seeking a cut of the estimated $300 million sale.
Bob Dylan wants a New York appeals court to reject efforts to revive a lawsuit that sought a cut from his huge catalog sale to Universal Music Publishing Group, calling it an “opportunistic attempt” at an “unjustified windfall.”
Filed last year by the widow of a songwriter Jacques Levy – the co-writer of “Hurricane” and nine other songs on Dylan’s 1976 album Desire – the lawsuit sought a portion of the estimated $300 million sale. But a judge ruled in August that Levy had signed away any ownership rights to the songs when they were written.
With the estate currently appealing that ruling, attorneys for Dylan filed his formal response on Wednesday – and they didn’t hold back.
“This lawsuit is plaintiffs’ opportunistic attempt to rewrite a 45-year-old employment contract to obtain a windfall payment that the contract does not allow,” wrote Orin Snyder, a top litigator at the law firm Gibson Dunn. “This court should hold plaintiffs to the plain terms of the contract Levy signed 45 years ago and affirm the trial court’s decision to dismiss this entire lawsuit with prejudice.”
The case was filed in January 2021 by Levy’s widow, Claudia Levy, a month after news broke that Dylan had sold his entire songwriting catalog of more than 600 songs to UMPG. Levy claimed that the estate was entitled to a cut of the deal under a 1975 deal inked over his contributions to Desire.
But just a few months later, Judge Barry Ostrager tossed the case, ruling that the 1975 deal was a so-called work-for-hire agreement that had clearly granted all ownership rights to Dylan. The judge said Levy was entitled only to his ongoing royalty payments, not a cut of the rights sale.
Levy filed an appeal in November, arguing that Ostrager had botched the ruling by “citing inapposite cases and ignoring that critical information.” She called Dylan’s successful defense “the ultimate attempt to rewrite Levy out of Dylan’s history.”
In Wednesday’s response, Dylan’s attorneys said there was no grounds to overturn the dismissal. The contract was “clear and indisputable” that Levy was to receive only a royalty.
“The plain language of the 1975 Agreement precludes plaintiffs’ effort to reap an unjustified windfall from the sale of Dylan’s copyrights,” Snyder wrote.
Noting that the Levy estate would continue to be paid royalties by UMPG after the sale, the filing said the estate was trying to unfairly “double-dip” on the contract – meaning asking to receive both royalty payments and a cut of the sale price paid out to Dylan.
“It would be commercially unreasonable, grossly unfair, and downright absurd to pay Plaintiffs their continued stream of royalty payments in addition to a share of the sale money when the only rights relinquished in the sale were Dylan’s, not Plaintiffs’,” Snyder wrote.
Looking ahead, the Levy estate will file a formal reply next week. The court will likely hear oral arguments at some point after that, before issuing a ruling at some point in the coming months. An attorney for the Levy estate did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.