Hercules and Xena Ghostwriter Composer Awarded Copyright; Files Suit Against Universal Studios

By • December 15, 2003

LOS ANGELES (Film Music Magazine) — After being awarded copyright registration by the U.S. Copyright Office for hundreds of music cues he wrote for the syndicated “Hercules” and “Xena” hit television series, composer Daniel Kolton has sued Universal Studios and others for copyright infringement citing unauthorized usage of his copyrighted music in a lawsuit filed December 4 in U.S. Federal Court Los Angeles.

The Ghostwriter Problem

The case involves the highly controversial practice of film and television composers hiring “ghostwriters” – lesser known composers who are paid to secretly write music for film and television projects but who are denied authorship of the music while another composer, usually the “name” composer who is officially hired to score the projects, takes credit for authorship of the music on official production company documents including royalty cue sheets which direct the distribution of hundreds of millions of dollars of music performing rights royalties collected and paid by royalty organizations ASCAP, BMI and SESAC. ***image1***

According to Kolton’s lawyer, Los Angeles music attorney Brian Lee Corber, as the copyright holder and original author of the music Kolton retains all rights to the music, including the right to collect performing rights royalties for broadcasts of the music. Mr. Kolton stated he never transferred copyright to anyone else and did not gave permission for another composer to claim authorship and collect what may be hundreds of thousands of dollars of writers’ royalties paid over the last 7 years by ASCAP and overseas performing rights organizations for worldwide broadcast performances of Kolton’s music in over 100 episodes across three different television series.

According to Kolton the music, written during 1995-2000, was composed at the request of composer Joseph Lo Duca, who Kolton says is listed as the author of Kolton’s music on the shows’ music cue sheets which direct who performing rights royalties are to be paid to. Lo Duca, who ASCAP has awarded twice as a top earning composer over these same years, is listed in industry references and on-screen as the music composer for the shows, “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys,” “Xena: Warrior Princess,” and “Young Hercules.” The shows are currently in syndication worldwide.

Respecting Music Copyrights

Attorney Brian Lee Corber said that, “This case is about respecting the copyright of musical works. Despite Dan Kolton proving he is the author of this music to the satisfaction of the U.S Copyright Office who conducted a lengthy investigation before registering the copyrights to Kolton for his originally created music, it appears that’s not good enough for Universal Studios and the networks who continue to broadcast my client’s music without permission. While Universal’s record division through the RIAA continues to sue little old ladies and teenagers for copyright violations involving internet downloads, Universal’s television distribution division continues to violate copyright and profits on a worldwide basis by using my client’s music without permission. To me, that seems rather inconsistent.”

Film Music Network founder Mark Northam noted that “If Kolton’s allegations are true, this case highlights one of the most exploitative practices our industry faces today: composers using and abusing lesser known composers while keeping it a dirty little secret from the studios. The name composers get all the credit and most of the money, but only because they and the performing rights organizations are willing to look the other way while uncredited and underpaid ghostwriters secretly do much of the work and are duped into giving up a lifetime of royalties for a few bucks. As a leading industry organization representing composers, we’ve taken a very strong stand against this kind of abuse, and I hope other organizations will follow.”

Universal Studios had no comment on the lawsuit and composer Joseph Lo Duca did not return phone calls.


Attorney for Plaintiff Daniel Kolton
Brian Lee Corber
(818) 786-7133 / corberlaw@aol.com

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