Even the country billed by most as among the most polite on earth can have some funky lawsuits.
One of the biggest music-related legal cases in Canada doesn’t involve a big name or a huge scandal. It does, however, involve a clarinet.
Eric Abramovitz of Montreal is a very talented guy. He’s been playing since he was seven, has won the Canadian Music Competition half a dozen times and has performed with the National Arts Centre Orchestra, the McGill Symphony Orchestra and the Quebec Symphony Orchestra. His dream was to go to an elite college and continue studying and perfecting his craft, maybe eventually becoming a fully-fledged professional musician.
In 2014, he was studying away at McGill when he decided to apply for the Colburn Conservatory of Music in Los Angeles. It was another dream of his and would have been a fantastic opportunity in his career. He was invited to audition… and never heard anything.
This is where his girlfriend – ex girlfriend—gives women a bad name.
Abramovitz was living with his girlfriend, Jennifer Lee, in Montreal at the time. She was a music student as well and had access to his email via an open laptop without security provisions because he trusted her.
When he was accepted into the school, she deleted the email and forged another to tell him he wasn’t accepted but suggested entrance to other schools in California, ones he couldn’t afford without the full scholarship he’d applied for at the conservatory.
She also responded to the school’s email, telling them he’d be going somewhere else to study.
A few years later, with Lee in the rearview and Abramovitz again in California auditioning for the conservatory, he spoke with the program’s director, Yehuda Gilad, a world-renowned clarinetist. Dumbfounded, Gilad asked why Abramovitz was there, having rejected the school years before. Abramovitz pulled out the rejection email and Gilad had to break it to him: the email was a forgery.
Abramovitz sued Lee for damaging his career and ruining his reputation and, in June, an Ontario judge awarded him $300,000, with an additional $50,000 for “the court’s revulsion at what Ms. Lee had done,” the BBC reports. In the court documents, Gilad says, “To sum up, I am very frustrated that a highly talented musician like Eric was the victim of such an unthinkable, immoral act that delayed his progress and advancement as an up-and-coming young musician and delayed his embarking on a most promising career.”
While grateful for the court’s decision in his favour, Ambamovitz admitted he’s become “somewhat numb” to the situation, but “the judge’s very strong reaction made me remember that this really is a crazy thing that happened,” he told the CBC.
Ambramovitz is now playing with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Maybe he who plays last laughs best?
Take a listen:
Timberlake was sued by who!?
Other notable Canadian music lawsuits including the time Justin Timberlake was sued by Cirque du Soleil Canada. No, really.
The aerialist and contortionist group sued him and Timbaland for allegedly stealing a song it used as part of the 1997 touring production called Quidam. The group claimed Timberlake’s song “Don’t Hold the Wall” was a direct lift from the song “Steel Dream” used in the production.
Timberlake was sued for copyright infringement, as was Timbaland, Universal Music, WB Music Corp, Sony and a few others musicians, because “Don’t Hold the Wall,” a track from 2013’s “The 20/20 Experience – The Complete Experience” “embodies unauthorized use, copies and/or derivative works based upon the composition and the sound recording (of Quidam).”
Cirque du Soleil Canada sought at least $800,000 in damages, as well as recouping attorneys’ and court fees. The case was heard in a Manhattan courthouse in early 2016 and by that September, a confidential deal was reached and the case sealed.
The potential $6 billion lawsuit
For something flashier, we turn to the $6 billion class action lawsuit filed by the estate of jazz performer Chet Baker against Warner Music Canada, Sony BMG Music Canada, EMI Canada and Universal Music Canada, basically the cornerstones of the house that is CanCon and the Canadian Recording Industry Association.
Baker’s estate claimed copyright infringement because it owned more copyright authority to more than 50% of his works and the labels outright admitted owing at least $50 million to the estate.
The lawsuit was filed in 2008, based on artists growing tired with “a longstanding practice of the recording industry in Canada, described in the lawsuit as ‘exploit now, pay later if at all.’ It involves the use of works that are often included in compilation CDs or live recordings. The record labels create, press, distribute and sell the CDs, but do not obtain the necessary copyright licenses,” explained Michael Geist back in 2009. Instead, the list of performers on the CD are included on a “pending list,” which also indicated that final approval and payment is pending. This list dated way back to 1980 and, as of 2009, included more than 300,000 songs.
In 2011, Judge George Strathy of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice approved a settlement in the case totaling $50 million – but there’s another smaller wrinkle: Turns out Chet Baker’s widow and his son had a dispute in the middle of the case, which made the whole thing take longer to finalize.
As a result, the lead plaintiff in the case as not Baker but, instead, Craig Northey, a member of The Odds.
The labels didn’t have to admit to any liability or wrongdoing as part of the settlement but did agree to a full release of all the plaintiffs’ claims for the work included in and represented on those ‘pending lists.’
It’s also worth noting that these copyrights are only applicable to the physical recordings, not the online or digital products. But that’s a whole different bucket of stress and legal mumbo jumbo.