Madonna’s first-ever concert in Kyiv last August left lots of fond memories for fans, but a legal nightmare for the show’s organizers. Melnitsa International, who brought the pop queen to Ukraine, lost a lawsuit on Jan. 18 for apparently violating Madonna’s copyright.
The company was ordered by a Kyiv district court to pay Hr 1.09 million($136,000) in damages, including Hr 322,866 (about $40,000) to Madonna herself. But it’s unclear whether the diva knows anything about the cash the Ukrainian court awarded her because it wasn’t her who started the legal process and claimed her rights were breached.
Madonna’s spokesperson did not respond to requests for comments by the time Kyiv Post went to press.
The lawsuit against Madonna’s concert organizers was instigated by the state Ukrainian Agency for Copyright and Related Rights. The agency’s role is to collect royalties in Ukraine from concerts, clubs, radio stations and so on, and pass the cash on to official representatives of artists.
By law, concert organizers have to pay 5 percent of their take to copyright holders on top of the sum indicated in the direct contract with the singer.
The regulating agency claimed that Madonna’s concert organizers breached her copyright, as well as the rights of 46 authors of the songs performed during the concert, because they failed to sign an agreement with the state body before dealing with Madonna, and instead paid her royalties to an irrelevant company.
'We have warned to get a license with (our) agency for using the songs,' said Sergiy Rogozhin, the agency’s deputy director. 'They didn’t do it ... and violated the copyright which we’re managing.'
He said his agency has exclusive contracts for Madonna’s (and many other artists’) copyright in Ukraine.
Ukrainian Agency for Copyright and Related Rights filed a similar suit against Melnitsa International for organizing the Red Hot Chili Peppers concert last summer, but it’s still pending in court. Melnitsa International had no immediate comment.
What got the company in legal trouble is choosing to deal with a private copyright management company, House of Music Authors. Maria Borodina, a lawyer for House of Music Authors, said her company also has contracts with international copyright agencies that represent artists like Madonna. She says she was 'shocked' by what she considers to be a biased court decision.
'It looked like it was just copied from the (state agency’s) plea and nobody considered the point of the defendant,' Borodina said. House of Music Authors and Melnitsa International appealed the ruling on Jan. 28.
Borodina said the court ruling is not the only piece of the puzzle related to the government-owned copyright agency. She said the agency forwarded Hr 15,000 ($1,875) in royalties to rock band Scorpions for their concert in 2010. According to Borodina, Britney Spears got even less, Hr 11,000 ($1,375). Both performed in Palats Sportu, which seats close to 10,000 people.
'How is this possible, when Palats Sportu was packed and the average price for the ticket was Hr 1,000 ($125)? They should have paid Hr 300,000 ($37,500) at least,' Borodina says. Rogozhin would not comment on these cases, saying they took place a long time ago.
Oksana Yefimchuk, a lawyer at Jurimex, who specializes on copyright issues, says that most copyright agencies in Ukraine, especially government ones, have bad reputations. 'The money they collect often doesn’t reach copyright holders and is hanging on their banking accounts,' she says.