Bob Dylan won a ruling Tuesday at a New York appeals court rejecting a lawsuit that claims he owes a portion of his huge Universal catalog sale to the widow of a one-time collaborator, a case Dylan has called an “opportunistic attempt” at an “unjustified windfall.”
The widow of songwriter Jacques Levy – the co-writer of “Hurricane” and nine other songs on Dylan’s 1976 album Desire – claimed last year that she deserved a $7.25 million cut of the $300 million sale to Universal Music Publishing Group, but a trial judge ruled in August that Levy had signed away his rights years ago.
On Tuesday, New York’s Appellate Division upheld that ruling – and said it wasn’t a particularly close call.
“The parties’ agreement is unambiguous, and does not entitle plaintiffs to proceeds from the sale of the copyrights of the compositions cowritten with Dylan,” the appeals court wrote. “Nothing submitted by plaintiffs concerning music industry custom and practice supports a reading otherwise, or even suggests an ambiguity in the relevant contractual language.”
The case was filed in January 2021 by 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 agreement inked over her late husband’s 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 had asked the appeals court to overturn that ruling, saying the outcome was an attempt to “rewrite Levy out of Dylan’s history.” In January, Dylan blasted the effort to revive the case as an “opportunistic attempt” at an “unjustified windfall.”
Following Tuesday’s decision, Levy can appeal the case one last time to New York’s highest appellate court, the Court of Appeals, which could overturn Tuesday’s decision. But such reversals are rare. An attorney for Levy did not immediately return a request for comment.
Dylan’s attorney, Orin Snyder of the law firm Gibson Dunn, told Billboard: “Today’s decision puts the nail in the coffin of this opportunistic lawsuit. We are pleased the court has again rejected this sad attempt to profit off of Bob’s recent catalog sale.”