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Court Victory For Collins

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Pop Star Claims Hollow Victory In Cash Battle Julia Hartley-Brewer

Multi-millionaire pop star Phil Collins yesterday won almost pounds 250,000 in a high court battle over royalties with two impoverished members of his former backing band, only to be told he would never collect most of the money owed. The judge ruled that the singer had overpaid the horn players a total of pounds 244,000 in royalties because of an accounting error, but made it clear that the two men, who have no other regular income, will not have to repay any of the money 'out of their own pockets'.

In his ruling Mr Justice Jonathan Parker awarded the pop star's company, Philip Collins Ltd, only half of the amount sought from trumpeter Louis Satterfield, 51, and trombonist Rahmlee Davis, 63, because the overpayment had not been their fault. The judge, who at the start of the case commented that the amounts in dispute were 'not much', said it was 'highly regrettable' that the matter had not been resolved before it came to court.

Collins, who is believed to be worth pounds 300m, had never attempted to compel the two men to pay back the overpaid royalties, asking only for all future payments to be stopped. But the judge said it was 'highly improbable' that the future royalty payments of about pounds 12,500 a year each would ever cover the sum owed to the pop star. In practice, Collins would 'only recover a small part of the amount to which he is entitled'. 

Davis and Satterfield, who had played with Jackie Wilson, Aretha Franklin and Chuck Berry, were founder members of the Phoenix Horns, who performed with the 1970s group Earth Wind and Fire. Despite helping Phil Collins launch his solo career in 1979 after leaving Genesis, the court heard that the two men were now penniless, with Satterfield living on benefits while Davis had been forced to pawn his musical instruments.

The two men performed on several successful Phil Collins albums, including Face Value in 1981, and But Seriously in 1989, for which they received session and touring fees. They also appeared on Serious Hits Live, recorded during the singer's 1990 tour, for which they received royalties worth hundreds of thousands of pounds. But those royalty payments were terminated in 1996 when the chief accountant at Philip Collins Ltd realised the horn players had been paid royalties for all 15 tracks on the album, despite playing on only five songs. He wrote to them explaining they had each been overpaid Dollars 345,000 for worldwide sales of the album and pounds 29,000 for sales in the UK. 

Davis, from California, and Satterfield, from Chicago, began proceedings against Collins in California in 1997 claiming they were entitled to full royalties and damages, and accusing the star's company of being 'oppressive, fraudulent and malicious'.

But this action was suspended to allow Philip Collins Ltd to bring a case in London after the US court ruled that the pair's contracts were signed under English law.

Yesterday the judge ruled that the pair should only have been paid on a pro rata basis for the five tracks on which they performed. But he said the Phoenix Horns had 'made an important contribution to the success of the albums on which they performed' and criticised the way in which they were informed of the decision to cease royalty payments as leaving 'a great deal to be desired'.

The question of costs will be decided at a further hearing, but Davis and Satterfield were represented by lawyers working on a no win, no fee basis.

The horn players' solicitor, Franco Barone, of Rakisons, described the ruling as 'a judgment of Solomon'. He said: 'I think it's morally disgraceful that Phil Collins has gone this far over what is, for him, a pittance when my clients have no other regular source of income.'

© The Guardian

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