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Orchestra sues over anthem's re-release

The Florida Orchestra seeks royalties on Whitney Houston's Super Bowl rendition.

By DAVID KARP, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 15, 2001


TAMPA -- When the country needed it most this year, Arista Records decided to put a song on the market that would make everyone proud.

TAMPA -- When the country needed it most this year, Arista Records decided to put a song on the market that would make everyone proud.

Shortly after Sept. 11, the company re-released Whitney Houston's soaring rendition of the national anthem, which she performed at the Super Bowl in Tampa during the Persian Gulf War with the Florida Orchestra playing in the background.

"That was a magical moment," orchestra executive director Leonard Stone said.

But on Friday, after trying to deal peacefully with the company, the orchestra took Arista to court for failing to pay royalties on copies of the song released after Sept. 11 and placed on a Whitney Houston Greatest Hits album and videocassette.

"It is a pity that we have to go to court on something so honorable and uplifting as the national anthem," Stone said. "I suspect that Whitney Houston, if she knew, would be deeply hurt and offended as well. She was a friend of the orchestra."

The lawsuit filed Friday in Hillsborough Circuit Court asks a judge to enforce the terms of a 1991 agreement that requires Arista to pay the orchestra royalties on all sales worldwide of her rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner.

Under the agreement, the orchestra would get royalties of 5 percent on the suggested retail price of all copies of the song sold in the United States. The royalties would range from 2.5 to 4.25 percent in foreign countries.

Since Sept. 11, Stone said, the royalties could mean hundreds of thousands of dollars for the non-profit orchestra, which cut its budget by $600,000 this year to $7.6-million and forced musicians to take a pay cut.

Arista, by contrast, signed a $100-million deal with Houston this year. No one from the New York-based record label could be reached for comment Friday.

Arista was supposed to send the orchestra quarterly reports on the album's sales, but the orchestra never received them.

Indeed, no one at the orchestra knew that Houston's performance of The Star-Spangled Banner had been released in 2000 on her greatest hits album.

Following the song's release after Sept. 11, orchestra attorney Frank Jakes began looking into the issue. Jakes, who negotiated the agreement with Arista in 1991, recalled how unwilling Arista had been to pay the orchestra a decade ago.

This year, he sent Arista's general counsel letters and faxes but got no response.

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