In the music world, big hits come and go, but for a song to remain popular 30 years after its release is extremely rare. When these exceptional pop treasures do emerge, it can mean a lifetime of royalties for the artist.  But if the record company doesn’t accurately report those numbers, the songwriter must take swift and aggressive legal action to get paid what they’re due.

In 1984, musician Ray Parker Jr. was approached by the producers of the film “Ghostbusters” to write and record a theme song for the film in just a few days. Despite the quick turnaround time, Parker delivered an incredibly catchy pop-rock number framed as an advertising jingle for the films fictional business, and the rest is history. “Ghostbusters” became an instant classic and historic milestone in comedic cinema, and the film’s success is inseparable from that of its theme song.  “Ghostbusters” skyrocketed to number one on the Billboard Hot 100, and held the spot for three weeks. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song, and secured Parker a Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance. Film expert Bruce A. Austin stated in his 1989 book Immediate Seating: A Look at Movie Audiences, the theme "purportedly added $20 million to the box office take of the film".

When the song was released, Parker signed an initial publication agreement with Goldentorch, which was later sold to Sony EMI. This agreement included the continued rights to license the song for commercial use — the signature “Who you gonna call?” chorus is modified for countless advertising jingles in radio and television — and this is where the song continues to generate substantial royalties to this day. Unfortunately, Sony EMI has been largely derelict in reporting royalties ever since acquiring the song.

A year and a half ago, fellow Valensi Rose attorney Michael Morris and I filed a suit on behalf of Parker in Los Angeles superior court, demanding Sony EMI report their earnings, and as a result, found that they were delinquent paying out a huge share of royalties. Despite these findings, we are still embroiled in a heated legal battle with Sony EMI to recoup the years of delinquent payments.

When songwriters “sell” a song to a recording company, their payment comes in the form of continuous royalties based on where and how the song is played. Cases such as this — where a record company misrepresents figures to pad their own bottom line — are tragically common, and prove that even songwriters as successful as Parker frequently need aggressive legal action to protect their intellectual property.