A man claiming to have been cheated out of credit for writing a song that was eventually recorded by R&B star Usher has won a more than $40 million judgment in a combined verdict and settlement against two men he co-wrote the song with.
The award, which included a $27 million verdict and a $17.35 million stipulated judgment that was part of a broader settlement, was entered in a Philadelphia state court last week.
According to court records, a jury awarded plaintiff Daniel Marino $6.75 million in compensatory damages and $20.25 million in punitive damages against William Guice, a co-writer defendant, who had defaulted in the case. Two days before the verdict was handed up, Marino had entered into a settlement that included a $17.35 million judgment against Destro Music Productions, as well as a third of the ownership rights of the disputed song, according to a transcript of the proceedings.
Marino was represented by Media, Pennsylvania, attorney Francis Malofiy, who is currently pursuing another case against Led Zeppelin over the song “Stairway to Heaven.”
“The big thing in all these music cases, and I represent the creatives, is giving credit where credit is due, and that’s really what we fought for the hardest,” Malofiy said. “We’re happy Marino got his day in court after seven years of litigation.”
Margolis Edelstein attorney Jason C. Berger represented defendant Dante Barton and Barton’s company Destro Music Productions. Berger did not return multiple requests for comment.
Guice defaulted in the case. The Legal was unable to find contact information for him.
The dispute stemmed from the song “Bad Girl” that Usher released in his 2004 album “Confessions,” which was one of the bestselling albums of the decade, according to Billboard.
According to Marino’s pretrial memo, around 2001, Marino co-wrote a song called “Club Girl” with defendants Dante Barton and William Guice. The memo said the three had a contract to split writing credit and compensation three ways on any songs. The memo also said Marino was the originator of the song, as he came up with the guitar hook, the structure, tempo, chord progression and basic melody. According to the memo, Barton added a beat and Guice added the lyrics.
A man who worked for Usher later reached out about having the R&B star record and release the song, which was eventually released as “Club Girl,” the memo said. The parties agreed with the understanding they would each get their share of credit for the song, according to the memo.
However, according to Marino’s memo, Guice, Barton and Destro Music Productions signed “secret” contracts cutting Marino out of any credit or compensation for the song. The two defendants, the memo said, made at least $700,000 on the song, and Marino was entitled to at least one-third.
Marino’s memo claimed that, after the deals were entered into, Barton misled Marino about his share of the money. The memo also said that Barton at one point “explicitly acknowledged that Marino was owed money” and that Marino had “co-authored, co-produced and co-owns” the song.
In 2009, after the defendants allegedly lost contact with the plaintiffs, Marino realized he had been tricked, the memo said. He sued 20 defendants, including Usher, in federal court, alleging copyright infringement, fraud and breach of contract, accounting and constructive trust in 2011. That suit, however, was dismissed against all but Barton and Guice.
Marino brought the state court action against Barton and Guice in 2016.
In their pretrial memo, Barton and Destro Music Productions contended that Marino’s claims were barred by the federal court ruling, and that the other claims failed as a matter of law. The memo also noted that the defendants did not have any insurance policies that would cover an award in the case. Although the memo did not address Marino’s claim that Barton had misled him, in the federal court litigation, Barton contended that the defendants had both express and implied licenses to copy the song, and because the song’s sound was never registered, Marino could not find success on an infringement claim.
Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Angelo Foglietta oversaw the trial.
“We intend to collect every penny for Mr. Marino from those who wronged him,” Malofiy said. “The judgment has tremendous value and it’s our intention to leverage that.”