Levon Helm Sues To Take A Load Off Ad Firm’s Profits

One more from the file of litigious songwriting icons: The Band’s Levon Helm is suing BBDO, an advertising firm based in Manhattan, for using “The Weight” in a Cingular TV ad campaign. Via AP:

In a lawsuit filed in state Supreme Court in December, Helm asks for information about BBDO Worldwide’s profits from the commercial for Cingular cell phone service and for financial compensation for the use of his performance.

Helm’s attorney, Michael Pinsky, said state law prohibits the use of a celebrity’s voice or likeness for profit without his prior written permission.

Pinsky said Helm received a royalty payment from the use of “The Weight” in the commercial, but doesn’t feel he has been adequately compensated.

According to an annual royalty statement from EMI Records, which owns Capitol Records, The Band’s record label, Helm took home one-fifth of half of the licensing fee that BBDO paid to Capitol for the right to use the song, Pinsky said.

“It was just a complete, damn sellout of The Band ? its reputation, its music; just as much disrespect as you could pour on Richard and Rick’s tombstones,” said Helm, 66, a longtime Woodstock resident.

Ever seen the commercial? We haven’t, though there’s a certain capitalistic synergy to The Band hawking Cingular’s hot new Quad BAND phone (or whatever it was). But we’re not clear on the licensing issue; Levon was compensated, but did he ever expressly consent to Cingular’s use? His quote has us thinking that’s a resounding, tombstone-invoking “no.” So if Capitol collected the licensing fee, wouldn’t it be safe to assume they were the deal’s facilitators — and that Helm’s beef should be with his label? Industry insiders, set us straight. And if anyone has vid of the commercial, put the load right on us.

Tags: The Band