Rights to Deceased Singer Nina Simone’s Music Remain in Dispute

Legal disputes following the death of a loved one in Miami may be exacerbated if the deceased was a famous entertainer, such is the case for the dispute over Nina Simone’s music. Several individuals who were close to the jazz, blues, R&B and gospel singer are in dispute over who owns certain portions of her ‘music library.’

A divorce, conflicting contracts and an untimely death result in more than a decade of litigation.

Musicians rarely envision long-term property disputes when starting their recording and performance careers. Too often, though, incorrectly handled legal agreements eventually result in disputes involving not only intellectual property law but contract law, estate planning law and a range of other legal issues.

The fate of a Simone’s music library serves as a case in point.

In 1972, Simone signed a divorce settlement agreement with her husband Andrew Stroud. Prior to her death in 2003, Simone also signed property contracts with attorney Steven Ames Brown and entered into contract agreements with Sony Music Entertainment. In the years following her death, all three parties have sparred over the ownership rights of a number of her recordings. The dispute is complicated by the following factors:

  • Stroud died in 2012. His wife at the time of death (not Simone) was named in his place in ongoing lawsuits,
  • Before he died, Stroud sold some of his (disputed) ownership rights to ICU Entertainment Company,
  • Brown (Simone’s attorney) claims to own not a portion of the disputed recordings,
  • Simone’s estate exists as a fourth major party of interest in the dispute.

Despite the complexity and longevity of the dispute, an end may be in sight. In March of this year, a U.S. Magistrate Judge recommended judgment and injunctions against Stroud’s companies and estate. Judgments were also made in favor both for Simone’s estate and for Sony Music Entertainment via RCA Records. However, Brown’s claim that he owns some of the recordings in question may still be viable.

Though carefully constructed contracts cannot necessarily prevent property rights disputes in all instances, they can strengthen owners’ claim to property, reducing the number and length of disputes. It’s possible that more diligent legal representation could have resulted in more legally efficient property rights both for Simone and her estate.

If you are a recording artist or entertainer and have questions regarding commercial litigation and entertainment law in Miami or anywhere in Florida, contact Manos Elwine, PL. We have provided unwavering legal representation to our entertainment industry clients for more than 30 years. Call 305-341-3100.