Primary Wave and the estate of James Brown are facing a new lawsuit that claims their $90 million catalog sale last year violated an agreement that the iconic singer had struck decades earlier with another company.
Announced in December, the sale saw Primary Wave scoop up a portion of Brown’s publishing rights, master royalty income and name/likeness rights from the singer’s estate – adding the “Soul Brother No. 1” to the likes of Whitney Houston and Prince in the company’s growing catalog.
But in a new lawsuit filed Tuesday (Nov. 15) in Manhattan federal court, David Pullman’s Pullman Group says the blockbuster sale represents a breach of a contract it struck with Brown way back in 1999 that guaranteed the company the right to broker any such deal in the future.
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And Pullman says the breach was no small error: It’s demanding more than $11 million in damages from the Brown estate, and a whopping $125 million from Primary Wave.
“The Primary Wave transaction violated The Pullman Group’s exclusive rights under the exclusive engagement letter to arrange such asset sales for Brown and his estate,” Pullman’s lawyers wrote in their complaint.
In response to the allegations, a rep for the Brown estate told Billboard on Wednesday that the lawsuit “has no merit and the Estate and Trust intend to vigorously defend the action.” A rep for Primary Wave did not immediately return a request for comment.
Pullman is best known for creating so-called Bowie Bonds – a novel financial vehicle that offered investors the right to collect future royalties in return for a lump payment to an artist. He pioneered the arrangement with a $55 million deal with David Bowie in 1997, hence the name.
In the new lawsuit, Pullman Group says it created such a bond offering for Brown in 1999 to help the late singer deal with “financial difficulties,” which were spurred by his “spending habits and legal problems.” Under the terms of the deal, Brown received an up-front payment of $26 million in exchange for future royalties over a set period of time.
But crucially, Pullman’s lawsuit says the deal also guaranteed the company “exclusive rights to arrange all future refinancing or asset sales of Brown’s assets.” It says the that contractual sweetener was included because the deal was risky for Pullman and the company had already agreed to waive its normal up-front fees in Brown’s case.
But in December 2021, Pullman says it learned from media reports that Brown’s estate had reached a deal with Primary Wave. The agreement had been struck “secretly and behind The Pullman Group’s back,” and the estate had instead used a company called Shot Tower Capital to arrange the deal.
“By working for years in secret on the Primary Wave transaction, Primary Wave and Shot Tower Capital intentionally and maliciously interfered with The Pullman Group’s exclusive contractual rights,” the company’s lawyers wrote.
The lawsuit says Pullman would have been entitled to a 12.5% fee from any rights deal struck by Brown’s estate – meaning the estate owes the company $11.3 million from Primary Wave’s $90 million payment.
Pullman wants far steeper damages from Primary Wave and Shot Tower Capital. Accusing them of so-called tortious interference with a contract – meaning an outside party essentially induced someone to break their word – Pullman is seeking at least $125 million in damages from each company.
A rep for Shot Tower Capital did not immediately return a request for comment on the lawsuit’s accusations.
In a statement to Billboard, David Pullman said he and Brown had a “great mutually successful and beneficial relationship and friendship for years,” but that the current legal dispute had been caused by those running his estate.
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