'Uptown Funk' lawsuit seeks unpaid royalties for Bruno Mars hit

Mark Ronson (R) and Bruno Mars (holding trophy) accept the award for best male video for "Uptown Funk" at the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards in Los Angeles, California August 30, 2015. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
  • Gap Band heirs say publisher BMG has not paid their 'Uptown Funk' share
  • Bruno Mars hit has been subject of multiple copyright lawsuits

(Reuters) - The heirs of Gap Band members Robert and Ronnie Wilson have sued BMG Rights Management in Manhattan federal court, alleging the music publisher has not been paying royalties for their credits on Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson's 2014 hit song "Uptown Funk."

BMG breached a contract that entitled the heirs to part of the composition copyright in "Uptown Funk," which incorporates elements of the Gap Band's 1979 song "I Don't Believe You Want to Get Up and Dance (Oops Upside Your Head)," according to the complaint.

The heirs' attorney Mike Steger said Friday that the Wilson family has been "working for years to reclaim their rights in their musical works and to obtain credit for their contributions to 'Uptown Funk,'" and that it is "unfortunate that BMG refused to respond to our clients' repeated requests for payment of or even information about the monies they are owed."

Representatives for BMG did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

The heirs separately sued Mars and Ronson in Oklahoma in 2021 before dropping the case last year. "Uptown Funk" was also the subject of previous copyright lawsuits, since settled or dismissed, based on its alleged resemblance to songs by electro-funk groups Zapp and Collage and rap group The Sequence.

Tulsa, Oklahoma brothers Charlie, Robert and Ronnie Wilson formed the Gap Band in 1967. Robert died in 2010, and Ronnie died in 2021.

Robert and Ronnie Wilson's composition rights in the Gap Band's song were assigned to a company called Minder Music Ltd. The lawsuit said Minder signed an agreement with BMG, Universal Music and others in 2015 that entitled Ronnie and Robert each to 3.4% of the copyright in "Uptown Funk."

The complaint said Ronnie and Robert's heirs reclaimed their copyright interests from Minder in 2016, and that BMG breached the agreement by "failing and refusing" to make payments to them despite "repeated demands."

The heirs asked the court for an unspecified amount of money damages.

The case is Wilson v. BMG Rights Management (US) LLC, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, No. 1:23-cv-00281.

For the heirs: Michael Steger of the Law Offices of Michael D. Steger

For BMG: attorney information not available

Reporting by Blake Brittain in Washington

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Blake Brittain reports on intellectual property law, including patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets. Reach him at blake.brittain@thomsonreuters.com