The Peermusic Lie and song ownership end (in Venegas vs. Peermusic lawsuit)
1997: PEERMUSIC ASK VENEGAS HEIRS FOR ASSIGNMENT OF SONGS
1997: HEIRS REFUSE THE PEER REQUEST FOR ASSIGNMENTS.
2001-2003: PEERMUSIC SAYS THEY OWN THE SONGS ANYWAY.
On September 22, 1997 Peermusic (aka Peer, Peer International, Southern Music...) requested from the heirs of Guillermo Venegas Lloveras that thy assign their rights to about 30 songs to Peermusic, so Peermusic could continue the alleged exploitation that they were doing. The request letter is shown below. It was signed by Alice Warden, a Peermusic employee.
This request was made after Peermusic repeatedly, after many requests spread over one year, failed to show documents to to the heirs of GVL that showed how Peermusic obtained the GVL songs it was claiming to own. During litigation it was found that the documents Peermusic could show to prve ownership were actually worthless since they were not signed by any Peermusic officer, were contraty to Puerto Rico law and were not properly signed by GVL - the substance of the so called assignment was on an unsigned, thus changeable page, while the signature was on a page that said essentially nothing and was not signed by a Peermusic officer. No wonder Peermusic did not show this document to Rafael Venegas as "proof" prior to their September 22, 1997 letter! The judge in the case had other ideas, though.
Clearly this request from Peermusic had one purpose: To fraudulently get the ownership of the songs and to legalize the claims Peermusic was making.
The offer was rejected by the heirs. After the letter was received, the heir's representative (Rafael Venegas) received several pressure calls (from the Peermusic's Puerto Rico office) to have the assignments signed right urgently.
1. It was Peermusic's position in 1997 when they wrote the letter that plaintiffs were the owners of all the songs previously in the Peermusic catalogue. This is so because assignment to songs can only be requested from, and issued by, the owners.
2. The GVL heirs had reason to believe that they owned the songs and could license them, as they had rejected Peermusic's request to become owners.
But, as it turned out:
a. Peermusic did not remove the songs from the ASCAP and BMI (performance collectives) as if their offer had been accepted by the heirs. Several old recordings (originally authorized by GVL himself) were still being manufactured and distributed under a no longer valid (expired) license from Peermusic and the royalty payments were not being paid to the GVL heirs.
b. The heirs had to sue Peermusic in 2001 to get it to stop their exploitation (copyright infringement) of the songs under their authority.
c. As a defense in their lawsuit Peermusic claimed it owned the songs.
d. Judge Jose A. Fuste sided with Peermusic and said that Peermusic owned most of the songs and thus there was no copyright infringement on them . Mysteriously the 1997 Peermusic request for assignment was mentioned but then totally ignored by the judge. In no manner does the judge explain why the heir's rejection to Peermusic's offer was meaningless.
e. Because of the above, Peermusic requested $1,000,000 in attorney fees to be paid by the heirs of GVL to them. This is over 1,000 times more than the music has earned in royalties per Peemusic's record (~$950) in 52 years of "explotation" by Peermusic and which Peermusic has not paid fully. Certainly it has never paid any royalties to the heirs for 13 years of Peermusic income of the songs, nor has it returned any illegally collected royalties. Much of the ill gotten income, over $1,000,000 at present worth is for a song for which Peermusic did not even claim ownership, but nevertheless received and kept the income and attributed the song to another songwriter (Edmundo Disdier).
See the results of the lawsuit here.
Notes on the 1997 assignment request letter from Peermusic:
1. The letter from Ms. Alice Warden says "We have prepared a renewal assignment for all of you to sign". But the documents that were to be signed included many songs that had no renewal rights because Peer had never copyrighted the songs.
A tip to Peermusic: When sending this type of request letter to heirs and songwriters you should not be so stingy with words and should send a guide that describes how copyright works, what are renewal rights and what options there are for the heirs and the songwriters and how they should proceed, for example, to have songs removed from the ASCAP and BMI repertoires. That way no one can claim that Peer deceived them or was trying to deceive them, as the heirs of GVL can say. Also Peermusic does not get into the messy lying it did in court to explain how the heirs of GVL could have the songs removed from the ACAP/BMI catalogs while stating that the owners were Peermusic, a total contradiction.
2. The heirs at the time did not know what "renewal" meant so Peer's New York officer was asked, by electronic mail. The inquiry was never replied to. The local Peer office was also questioned. The local's office was that they were not allowed to discuss legal questions because only Mr. Jaegerman, Peermusic's New York inside attorney was authorized to do that. Of course, the "Of course if you have any questions" offer in the Peer letter was actually a deceitful offer, as was the entire "assigment" request. When called, Peemusic consistently refused to answer questions, alleging that only Mr. Mr. Jaegerman could answer "legal" questions.
3. This offer included three payments of one dollar. When Peermusic was asked if that was what they though the music was worth, the reply was that the offer was "for legal purposes", with no further explanation.
4. Peer claimed that if the heirs signed these documents they would release the royalty payments they had withheld. When asked, Peermusic would not say what that amount was, but Peermusic did say we should assign the songs because Peer was very successful in exploiting songs for songwriters.
5. It was discovered in the Venegas vs. Peermusic lawsuit much later, Peer had been a total flop in their alleged exploiting the songs of Guillermo Venegas. The heirs now believe that total lack of exploitation was intentional, so that no money was earned by Guillermo Venegas. Peer has never issued one license for a new recording for any song composed by Guillermo Venegas which Peer alleges to own for about 50 years, since an alleged original assignment of 1952, which coincidentally names no songs and is thus invalid (among many reasons).
5. The letter suggests that Peermusic has a work relation with PHAM, a Mexico music publisher. As it turned out, the relationship has ended in ********
7. It appears that similar requests were made from the heirs of Cuban songwriters at about the same time. With the help of a Cuban government officer some heirs signed the Peermusic assignment request documents. The Cuban was found guilty of criminal activity and was given a jail sentence, for helping Peermusic. See the story here.