Nina Simone

Nina Simone’s Recording Rights Go Back to Her Estate

A federal magistrate has found that the former husband of the late jazz singer Nina Simone does not have rights to reproduce her recordings and the material should be surrendered to  Simone’s lawyer and her estate.

Although Simone’s former husband and manager Andrew B. Stroud died in 2012, his estate continued a legal fight to retain 104 master recordings of Simone’s.

The long-running dispute over the recordings resulted in a recommendation Monday by U.S. Magistrate Nathanael Cousins that Stroud had no right to sell copies from the master recordings and that the law firm holding them for Stroud prior to his death should return them immediately to attorney Steven Ames Brown and the Simone estate.

The fight over Simone’s recordings has been long and sometimes nasty.  Stroud, a former New York police detective who married Simone in 1961 and became her manager, and at the time of the original filing of the lawsuit claimed that he was the exclusive owner of the disputed recordings.

Two years ago he was ordered to produce documents, master recordings, or best available copies, listed in a discovery order.

There was plenty of dancing around, but not much production.  U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White finally ordered both sides to meet on October 11, 2011, and instructed Stroud to show up with an inventory of disputed recordings, including their location and a date for production.

They met but Stroud failed to mention that he had inked a deal just days earlier to sell Simone’s works in his possession to ICU Entertainment.

ICU owner, Wally Roker, estimated the fair market value of her works at $155.6 million, according to yet another lawsuit between Simone’s daughter and Roker. Kelly v. Roker, C11-5822JSW.

Brown and Sony cried foul.  The judge issued an order in Brown’s suit accusing Stroud of engaging in “inappropriate gamesmanship.”  Brown argued he successfully represented Simone in two prior actions and acquired a 40 percent interest in sound recordings that she recovered as a result of that litigation.

In 2012, White sanctioned Stroud for failure to produce as many as 467 recordings in discovery as ordered in the 2008 lawsuit.  He also entered a default judgment against them.

In that 2012 decision, Stroud was ordered to pay sanctions of $4,700 to Simone’s former attorney Brown, and Stroud and his lawyer, Melissa Newel, must split the bill of $38,000 in sanctions awarded to Sony.  Stroud died a short time later.

Cousins’ order Monday said Stroud’s current wife did not appear for a September 2013 court hearing on Brown’s request for a default judgment.  The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals later in the year dismissed an appeal for failure to follow through.

Cousins recommended that Judge White uphold the default and declare the Simone estate the rightful owner of the recordings and order the Stroud estate to return the material.  In addition, he called from the Stroud estate to be permanently barred from selling, copying or licensing the materials.  The recordings made while Simone was under contract to RCA must be turned over to Sony, according to Cousins’ recommendation.

Lastly, he calls for payment of nearly $24,000 for unpaid sanctions be made to Sony.

Simone was born in North Carolina in 1933 and aspired to be a classical pianist.  She played in clubs in Philadelphia where she was discovered.  She became an activist in the civil rights movement of the 1960s and ultimately recorded 40 albums during her life.   She and Stroud were divorced in 1972.  He claims rights to her recordings from the marital settlement agreement, according to the court.

Case:  Brown v. Stroud, No. C08-2348JSW

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