Sony Music Sues Whitney Houston Biopic Producers For Not Paying to Use Her Music

Sony claims that producers of the 2022 Whitney Houston biopic failed to pay for more than 20 songs used in the film.

Singer with microphone on stage wearing a headband and white outfit, expressing enthusiasm
Sony Pictures Releasing
Singer with microphone on stage wearing a headband and white outfit, expressing enthusiasm

Producers of the 2022 biopic Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody are being sued for allegedly evading payment for more than 20 of Houston's songs used in the film.

According to Billboard, the lawsuit was filed in New York federal court on Thursday, against media companies involved in the Kasi Lemmons-directed film, including Anthem Films and Black Label Media.

The film's lead, Naomi Ackie, extensively lipsynced to recordings from the late vocalist. The production entities signed sync license deals for Houston's hits, like "The Greatest Love of All," "I Will Always Love You," and "I'm Every Woman," to be used in the film. But more than a year since the film's release, Sony Music claims they haven't received payment.

“To date, Anthem has not paid the fees, or any portion of the fees, due under the agreements,” Sony Music lawyer, Christine Lepera of Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp, wrote in the legal complaint. The aforementioned companies allegedly signed a sync license deal on Dec. 5, 2022, less than two weeks before the film's theatrical premiere.

“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,” Sony Music stated. “Aware of the need for authorization to use Plaintiffs’ sound recordings in order to produce a biopic about the life and music of Whitney Houston, and aware of the value of plaintiffs’ catalog, Anthem entered into a license agreement.”

Sony claims that upon approaching Anthem about the overdue payment, the company said they were waiting until a tax credit owed by the state of Massachusetts was issued. However, the delay resulted in "failure to pay the fees to SME."

Legal representatives for Sony continued, "It is clear that there was no license or authorization to use the SME Recordings used in the film. Nevertheless, the film embodying the SME recordings was, and continues to be, exhibited, distributed, and exploited.”

The lawsuit names Anthem Films, NYBO Productions LLC, Black Label Media and its successor company, WH Movie LLC, as co-defendants.

In a statement to Billboard, Black Label Media said they were “one of many investors in this film" that "should not have been named in the lawsuit, and looks forward to being dismissed from it promptly.”

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