Sony Music Sues Whitney Houston Biopic Producers for Reneging on Sync License Payments

Sony Music sues Whitney Houston biopic producers
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Sony Music sues Whitney Houston biopic producers
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Photo Credit: Lander Pauwels / CC by 4.0

Sony Music sues the producers of a Whitney Houston biopic, claiming the companies never paid for the use of her music.

Sony Music Entertainment (SME) is suing the producers of the 2022 Whitney Houston biopic, Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody, alleging that although they signed a sync licensing deal, the companies failed to pay for the use of 20-plus of Houston’s songs that appear in the film. As a result, Sony calls the use of the songs in the film “willful and deliberate infringement” of its copyrights.

According to the lawsuit filed on Thursday (February 15) in New York federal court, Anthem Films, Black Label Media, and a number of other entities behind the Houston biopic, signed deals for sync licenses to allow the use of songs like “I Will Always Love You” in the film, but still haven’t paid Sony a penny for their use, more than a year later. Sony alleges that the companies signed a sync licensing agreement on December 5, 2022 — just a few days before the film’s release.

“Unlike other types of films, musical biopics by their nature require use of the subject musician’s music, as it is nearly impossible to explain the importance of a musician’s creative genius or unique style and talent without the use of the musician’s music,” wrote Sony lawyer Christine Lepera of Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp. “To date, Anthem has not paid the fees, or any portion of the fees, due under the agreements.”

Sony says it notified Anthem of the problem in August, after nearly nine months of non-payment. The company allegedly told Sony that it was waiting on funds from a tax credit owed by the state of Massachusetts — but Sony says that payment never came.

“As a result of Anthem’s failure to pay the fees to SME, it is clear that there was no license or authorization to use the SME recordings used in the film,” write Sony’s attorneys. “Nevertheless, the film embodying the SME recordings was, and continues to be, exhibited, distributed, and exploited.”

The lawsuit names Boston-based Anthem Films, NYBO Productions LLC, Los Angeles-based Black Label Media, and the Black Label-owned WH Movie LLC as co-defendants.

Black Label asserts in a statement to Billboard that the company was “one of many investors in this film, should not have been named in the lawsuit, and looks forward to being dismissed from it promptly.” Representatives for the other companies have not responded to media requests for comment.