There’s nothing Shirley Templeish about the unfriendly claims made by the granddaughter of the man who wrote what is perhaps Temple’s most famous song, “On the Good Ship Lollipop.”
Earlier this week, Deborah Bush Gervash, individually and on behalf of the Estate of Richard A. Whiting, sued Warner/Chappell Inc., a division of Warner Music Group, in Nashville’s District Court. Her complaint accuses the label of breaching a royalty contract first executed way back in 1936. That agreement was between Whiting and Music Holders Publishing Corp., a predecessor to Warner Music, and was signed only two years before Whiting’s death in 1938.
The suit — view it here — states that Gervash is the heir to the intellectual property and the estate of Whiting, her late grandfather who was a well-known and successful composer from the early 1900s. Songs like “On the Good Ship Lollipop” and “Hooray for Hollywood” comprise part of the writer’s repertoire. Whiting was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970.
Gervash’s beef is that she thinks Warner has maliciously breached its contract with Whiting, and now her, for grossly failing to properly account for and pay all royalties from Whiting’s work in accordance with a 1943 renewal agreement between Whiting’s widow, Eleanore Y. Whiting, and Warner predecessor Music Publishers Holding Corp.
The complaint states that “This action seeks remedies for Defendant’s knowing and at minimum grossly negligent violations of the terms of the Renewal Agreement whereby Defendant has paid Plaintiff significantly less royalties than are owed to Plaintiff under the terms.”
Gervash is seeking compensatory and punitive damages as well as an accounting of the business involved. Gervash wants the court to order Warner to pay 50 percent of Warner’s publishing income from all of Whiting’s work — the same amount Eleanore had agreed to in the 1943 agreement.
The complaint details the history leading to these allegations beginning with Gervash’s May 2007 discovery of documents from her grandfather’s estate. Upon closer inspection, she noticed the lesser percentage income paid the Whiting family since the death of Eleanore, who had earlier assigned her royalty rights over to Gervash.
Warner apparently thinks royalties aren’t due Gervash because the 1936 agreement — the parties' first — governs the case, which according to Warner means Whiting’s lineal descendants wouldn’t receive the now litigated royalty payments from Whiting’s work.
Gervash is being represented by Richard Busch of the King & Ballow law firm in Nashville. Busch wasn’t available immediately Thursday for comment. Local Warner Music Group officials also were not available.