The suit, by Elvis Presley Enterprises (EPA) against Arista Music (formerly RCA Records), can only be filed in Germany because of a recent amendment to German law that extends the life of copyrights. The organization is demanding payment for all sound recordings – including new media, like ringtones – produced after 2002 and up to 2023 in Germany.
In a press release, EPA said that Presley's manager sold RCA the rights to the artist's music in Germany for $5.4 million (€7.8 million) in 1973, not anticipating the wild success the records would have. After that, Presley and his estate - after his death in 1977 - received just $10 to $15 in royalties per song annually, despite increasing sales.
EPA argued that the amount of money earned by the record company has been “conspicuously disproportionate” to what Presley earned in royalties. Although it is not asking for a specific amount of money, it is asking for a judge to determine what would be “equitable remuneration.”
But Arista sees things differently. “It was a very favourable deal back then,” company attorney Henning Harte-Bavendamm told the Süddeutsche Zeitung, arguing that the agreement was completely valid.
Harte-Bavendamm argued that Presley was reportedly short of money in the 1970s and willingly made the agreement in order to get some hard cash in his pocket.
Presley's last years were a difficult period for the star, who fell into prescription drug abuse before his sudden death.
Disputes over Presley's German royalties have been ongoing for years. Two previous suits have been dismissed by judges before this one, which is due to be decided in November, the Süddeutsche Zeitung reported.