Top Petty’s Family Is In a Full-Blown War Over the Singer’s Assets and Legacy

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Photo Credit: David Baker

Tom Petty’s second wife and his daughters from his first marriage are duking it out in a legal battle over the singer’s assets.

When he was alive, Tom Petty became notorious for litigating over borderline copyright allegations.  In a controversial case that exposed a ruthless legal intent, Sam Smith lost millions over a simple chord progression that wasn’t exactly Mozart but bore similarity to a Petty classic.  Smith, perhaps green to the game, ultimately paid a ransom over questionable claims — just to avoid a costly litigation battle.

Now, it looks like Petty’s litigious legacy has been passed on well.

Adria Petty and Annakim Violette — Petty’s daughters from his first marriage — recently sued his widow Dana Petty for at least $5 million in damages. The duo believe that Dana set up a new LLC as a way to deprive them of their father’s assets. The company in question is a separate entity from Petty Unlimited LLC, which was set up to manage Petty’s assets after his death in 2017.

Both daughters claim the terms of their father’s trust grant them “equal representation” in making decisions about his estate. His widow Dana argues that the two daughters are attempting to rule by the majority. Dana Petty says since she is the sole trustee for the estate, she has the final word on decisions.

The vague wording of “equal representation” is the core of a court battle that will now play out.

Equal representation could be interpreted to mean Petty wanted all three women to have an equal vote. In that case, the daughters would have a 2-1 majority over decisions. But it might also mean that their right to participate in decisions could be overruled by Dana.

The whole thing kicked off when his daughter Adria wanted to create a range of Tom Petty products bearing his likeness. Dana Petty argued that Petty’s fans would be disgusted by the perversion of Petty’s legacy. Dana shared her reason for denying Adria’s request in official court filings.

“Tom would never have permitted such a thing, he never ‘sold out’ while he was alive and refused to do any such thing despite numerous opportunities. Dana is certain Tom’s fans would also find it a sad perversion of Tom’s legacy.”

Observers see the possibility of a Paul Newman-style line of Tom Petty products — with Petty’s name slapped onto salad dressing, toothpaste, whiskey… whatever.

Adria alleges that Dana has been misappropriating money from the estate and using her father’s intellectual property for her personal gain. She filed a petition in Los Angeles probate court seeking full control of the Tom Petty music catalog.

45 Responses

  1. Kevin Caldwell

    I have been a huge fan of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers my entire life. I must say it’s tacky at best to see emails I receive pushing Tom Petty merchandise. So if Dana Petty is in control who is behind the monthly spamming of coffee mugs, tee shirts and key chains? I personally understood Tom Petty to be a person who would not allow over commercialization of himself. If Dana Petty is behind the most recent “email merch bonanza” then she is certainly not representing her late husband as she claims to be. I believe very simply that The Heartbreakers have some stiff debt that must be realized. There was no merchandise campaign while Tom was alive.

    • Tricia Cassel Gerard

      It’s the record company. This merchandize was available before TP passed away. It’s for fans at concerts etc. Just like other big bands. Not Dana per se.

  2. June Esser

    The beginning of this article introduces the great Tom Petty so inaccurately….dragging artists? Author can not be a true follower and superfan of one of America”s greatest songwriters and performers. This is a total misrepresentation of who Tom Petty. Please revise your article to represent the facts which include he ranged against record companies and greedy business folks who attempted to take advantage of him and the Heartbreakers while jacking up the price of CDs for fans. I look forward to your revision. Tom Petty was an artist not willing to settle for nonsense when it came to music. He supported other artists and was vocal about the need for mentoring at the 2017 Musicares awards. Your article is in need of more research. It is inaccurate.

    • Kathy Frisbie

      I was surprised by that line in the beginning of the article that stated that Tom was notorious for dragging artist to court over a simple chord progression.
      I thought the opposite to be true also. I’m not 100 percent certain, but I remember Tom stating in an interview that he didn’t mind if other artist did recordings that sounded like something he did. It could be accidental.
      I agree with you on that. I love Tom’s music but haven’t kept up with his most recent sic.

    • Mark

      I agree 100% Petty thought those kinda lawsuits were frivolous

      • Jackie Burton

        Please revisit Tom’s “Two Gunslingers” circa 1991. Thinking our beloved Petty would cringe at a remake “Three Gunslingers,” just saying. He loves Dana & his daughters. Rest in power Thomas Earl❣️

  3. Paul

    With Petty I think you had a lot of predatory copyright litigation, abusing the spirit and intention of copyright law. ‘Stay With Me’ sounded like ‘I Won’t Back Down,’ sure, but this is an incredibly simple melody and rhythm.

    But Sam Smith, who recognized the similarities, didn’t have the legal muscle or ability to fight back. So he took a crap deal to get the sharks to swim away. In the worst interpretation, Petty abused the legal system and vagaries in copyright law to extort millions out of Smith – and potentially others.

  4. John Chellemi

    Wow, Ashley King you are a very unprepared and irresponsible writer. Here’s a snippet from Rolling Stone regarding this “lawsuit”.

    About the Sam Smith thing. Let me say I have never had any hard feelings toward Sam,” Petty wrote. “All my years of songwriting have shown me these things can happen. Most times you catch it before it gets out the studio door but in this case it got by. Sam’s people were very understanding of our predicament and we easily came to an agreement.

    “The word lawsuit was never even said and was never my intention. And no more was to be said about it,” Petty continued. “How it got out to the press is beyond Sam or myself. Sam did the right thing and I have thought no more about this. A musical accident no more no less. In these times we live in this is hardly news. I wish Sam all the best for his ongoing career. Peace and love to all.”

    • Paul Resnikoff

      John, actually I’m the one that injected that intro paragraph before we published Ashley’s piece.

      In the most respectful manner, I think you’re being naive here. Of course, Petty wants to be the good guy, publicly disavowing what is obviously a ruthless legal attack against a target. That target was Sam Smith, who forked over millions to keep his fledgling career from imploding into legal chaos (i.e., avoiding the fate of a previous group like The Verve).

      Petty was the friendly front of this, because of course, nobody is really reading the attack-dog legal filings of his lawyers (which he hired and supervised).

      Look at the other comments about RHCP, The Strokes, etc. Same thing. I wouldn’t be surprised if both paid money to Tom Petty Inc., and his team of lawyers.

      It’s a sad abuse of U.S. Copyright Law.

      • Lisa Traxler

        Paul and Ashley – I think that neither of you know what the hell you’re writing about. I’ve spoken candidly with someone very close to the situation and it wasn’t even Tom Petty who pursued an arrangement with Sam Smith. He has publishers who handle all of the business regarding his intellectual property. You need to be less naive and recognize that artists who have catalogues like Petty have teams who manage aspects of their work. Terms of the agreement were never published and might have been as simple as adding Petty’s name on the credits; your claim that Smith lost “millions” is wholly unsubstantiated. Dig deeper into things and you might learn how wrong you are. In the meantime, write what you actually know and stop fanning flames with unsupported rumors. Ultimately, this is about family members trying to handle a huge legacy left them by someone they all loved dearly. Give them a break, for decency’s sake.

        • Marta

          Amen Lisa Traxler. I always thought thatTom Petty was a good man personally. That certainly seems out of caricature for him. Putting thhat aside this is about about his family . Not putting him on trial , when he can no longer speak for himself.

        • Paul Resnikoff

          Really, these three people could easily sit down and work out something. Really simple. Instead they’ve decided to burn years and perhaps perhaps hundreds of thousands in legal fees over ego, arguing over contract language.

          That’s sad. Even worse is that spats like these clog up court systems and resources.

          • Lisa Traxler

            Wow, you miss the mark again, Paul. What an incredibly naïve person you are to think that this could be “really simple.” It’s obvious you’ve never had to deal with real money, and that you know next to nothing about Tom Petty, his family (including his ex-wife), the legal machinations on both sides, or how things work in general when business disputes arise. Are you seriously suggesting that this case “ties up the courts?” What do you think courts are for, anyway? Are you thinking that some underprivileged pickpocket won’t get his day in court because of this?? It’s not a criminal court case. I smell an entitled millennial, and I think it’s you. How did you ever get this job? Quit slagging people you know nothing about. Shaddup.

      • Mary Ann

        He did NOT becone notorious for fighting this tyoe of thing and suing people. Good grief. You are obviously voicing your opinion and it is pretty much worthless. The point should be that it is sad that the people he loved most are litigating against each other. You also failed to mention the very harsh e-mails sent to Tom’s band mates and best friends by Tom’s daughter. That shit would not have gine down were their Daddy alive. It’s just sad. Tom was a lyrical magician and he kept the friends he had for decades. He would be so disappointed in this behavior.

      • Joe

        “Stay With Me” sounded almost exactly like “Won’t Back Down.” It wasn’t just the chord progression, which is not protectable. The chorus melody was damn near note for note.

        This is such a weirdly written article. The first paragraph ragging on Petty is jarring and doesn’t fit with the rest. It comes off as someone who just doesn’t like Petty

      • Thomas Walsh

        “Fledgling career” of Sam Smith?? Typical blinkered American knowing nothing about the rest of the world. The guy is a huge star. Whether the lawsuit was right or not, journalistically you’re just not very good.

        • Paul Resnikoff

          NOW, Sam Smith is a big star. But one hit doesn’t make a career, the apple cart can easily be tipped over (and for evidence of that just as The Verve or any other artist facing a career-halting incident, like an aggressive lawsuit from a huge artist).

          If Tom Petty was really so laid back and liberal about this case, he wouldn’t have demanded a publishing share, which does account for millions in money on a huge hit, it’s a long-running, highly valuable annuity. Of course Petty wants to pretend that he doesn’t care – it’s a typical good cop, bad cop scenario where Petty gets paid and Smith gets to save his career.

          Was it plagiarism? That’s really impossible to tell, personally I think Petty et al were abusing U.S. Copyright Law, you could find endless examples of songs using that very simple chord and note sequence. It’s simple, not a complex progression by any means.

          That’s what the U.S. legal system supports, unfortunately. Well-funded predatory attacks win over unfortunate, under-funded or naive defendants. If you have money and influence, you can win cases unfairly.

  5. Jenny

    I miss Tom Petty…Tom would be so upset to see what is happening between his daughters & Dana. Very sad to hear about this. I cannot imagine TP wanting anything less than to see his face all over salad dressing bottles!

  6. MudDuck541

    They need to listen to some Tom Petty songs and smoke a joint Life’s too short for this BS

  7. Melanie Rogers

    Tom Petty was a class act. He would absolutely not approve of cheap merchandising. Those that have attended his concerts know that his T-shirts were excellent quality, made in the USA (Los Angeles) and guaranteed to never fade out. He is a top notch performer and he NEVER went cheap when It came to his fans. I miss you Tom. Girls, split the money 3 ways. Let the Heartbreakers decide the musical legacy.

    • Jody Sellers

      Thank you, Melanie, for telling it like it really is, Thank U!!

  8. Logan

    It’s ironic to see journalists thumb their nose at copyright laws when we all know they’d be up in arms if someone plagiarized this article. The writer did a good job on the article. The editor added the front bit to “spice it up” but it obviously comes off as disingenuous at best. Way to go.

  9. Ann Marie

    I agree with those who point out that Tom Petty really didn’t resort to legal “remedies” for what is/was an artistic oversight. He was all about the music – and I think his daughters are being incredibly disrespectful of their father’s legacy. Shame on them.

  10. Beth B.

    Tom Petty was as authentic and upfront as they came. He was about his fans, he was about his music and I too read the excerpt from Rolling Stone. I also saw him speak those words in an interview,it was totally without any malice or hard feelings. He was always a Class Act speaking from his heart, speaking for the fans. No one could ever convince me that he would approve of the crass commercialism and merchandising of his name and image. His daughter Adria is trying to push this through, how much money does she need? He’s not about salad dressing.
    He’s about music. He’s about realism. I love that guy. What an incredible talent. Can we please not disrespect that but rather honor who he was and what he stood for by letting his legacy stand on his work.
    He’s got a room at the top of the world tonight.

  11. Dmk

    Dana Petty has never had Tom’s best interest at heart. She’s always been in it for the money! I hope the kids win!

    • Steve S.

      Not sure how you can arrive at that conclusion when Adria wants to license his name for product royalties – something we all know he didn’t choose to do during his life. It appears his daughter(s) are in pursuit of financial gains far beyond the current value of his assets and the legacy his music will bring. It appears Dana has the long term management eye on preserving his integrity.

    • Barbara

      ME AS WELL!!!!! I LUVED TOM and AALWAYS WILL!!!✌?✌?

    • Mtee

      Dana a,ways lived atom and Tom always lived Dana. He trusted her and made her the sole trustee…that is good enough for me.

  12. Beth B

    You are so right Steve S. Tom Petty credits Dana with saving him from the emotional Abyss he was in and helping him through his hard ordeal getting off of heroin. He seemed to love her exceedingly especially after enduring the emotional and verbal abuse from his first wife who unfortunately suffered with bipolar I believe.
    Dana is trying to keep his legacy in line with the personal beliefs and integrity that he held throughout his life.
    Not sure where DMK gets their information concerning what is in Dana’s heart but my information comes from Tom Petty himself as recorded in his biography by Warren Zanes who was also a friend of his.

  13. Reality About Tom Petty

    None of you guys knew the real Tom Petty. He was: a drug addict, an asshole, not a good guy, and not even a nice guy. He was threatened to destroy entire careers over three-note similarities because some lawyers told him he could make millions off that, then he went over to Rolling Stone magazine to act innocent with some deep interview. Fuck that guy. What an asshole and his family + second wife (or is it third) is just showing the shitty legacy he really left.

    • Mtee

      Funny. Tom was beloved by such iconic artists as George Harrison and Bob Dylan. You just sound bitter.

  14. Beth B.

    You’re the a****** buddy with not one single fact correct. jealousy is an ugly thing. Yeah, I wouldn’t leave my name to that comment either .
    Why don’t you do everybody a favor and crawl back in the hole you came out of.

  15. Hunter

    To Paul and everyone else here going back and forth –

    Stop. Pretty sure that no one here actually knew Petty as a person, musician, or business man. Reality is that his music means a lot to a lot of people and this kind of posthumous attack is kind of useless. Let the man rest and his music live. No one is forcing any of you to listen to his music or care.

    @Paul – Please do not try to pass your opinion off as facts or truth. Sounds to me like you may have been in a band that ripped someone famous off and got your hand slapped. Artists should be protected.

  16. Beth B.

    Exactly so and well said Hunter. Thank you for expressing what most of us feel. Let’s enjoy the good and move on. That would be a good tribute.

  17. Dan

    Not quibbling with the broader message/conclusions here, but FWIW I do think it’s inaccurate to state that “Stay With Me” merely resembled “I Won’t Back Down” harmonically. The two hooks are melodically identical.

  18. Sally Pitman

    I’ve read all of the above comments and have concluded that the facts are what count – as they always do. Truth is that TP pursued a dream to become a successful musician – which he achieved – and to make as much money as he could commericially too, whilst not doing so in a tacky over-exploitative fashion to give the impression that money came first. All the same, I don’t believe for one minute anything he or his family have ever said about money not being the most important thing to him in all of his career. Of course it was – and was right up until the day he died. If it had not been, wouldn’t a true artist do more to innovate and experiment with new sounds that might not appeal to typical fans – just to push boundaries? He didn’t do that. He churned out the same old middle of the road ‘safe rock’ that he knew would appeal and would always sell heaps of records. All the same, I also believed he was a nice, good person with good intentions and a diplomatic person who didn’t get too big for his boots. I don’t believe that Dana married him for his money either. Sure, she was arm candy for sure, but she also seemed like a good person. His daughters are not showing themselves up in a good light by saying all they are saying about his ex-wife and the shocking display of inarticulate gibberish they both write and say to express themselves on this and other topics does not impress me at all. If anyone is to blame for this latest debacle in the postumous period of their lives without Petty, it is the lawyers who approved and drew up the Family Trust wording. Surely, as professionals in family Trust law they should have advised their client on the ambiguities present in the wording and the problems this could result in later on. Surely TP was not niaive enough to believe that conflict could never break out when dealing with two daughters from a former marriage pitched against a new wife that is not their blood relation. If that were so, his problems lay deeper than an unwilllingness to back down. He really should have shut up too and let them get on with their job. Objectivity is key when drawing up legal agreements. Sentiment has no part to play in them at all.

  19. Mick

    Tom PETTY IS and WAS about MUSIC .
    GET JOBS …