Jamie Muir Wood – The Sugababes Case

Buchanan v Xenomania Songs Ltd – round and round

On 23 November, Deputy Master Glover gave an extempore decision in respect of an application to strike out a claim brought by Keisha Buchanan, one of the original Sugababes.

The claim (or the relevant aspect thereof) focussed on the publishing splits for various songs written and composed during the early stages of Ms Buchanan’s involvement with the Sugababes.  Xenomania publishes various composers and authors, including Brian Higgins, the sole director and shareholder of Xenomania and a successful producer in his own right.  Some of its composers and authors also contributed to the writing and composition of the Sugababes songs about which complaint was made.

The thrust of the claim was threefold.  First, it was said that Sarah Stennett, who was involved in the management of the Sugababes, also had a relationship with Mr Higgins and, accordingly, that any negotiations regarding publishing splits had not been conducted at arms-length.  Secondly, it was said that, since Ms Buchanan was a minor at the time, she had only recently been able to establish that the publishing splits were not more in her favour.  Finally, it was suggested that, since Ms Buchanan was responsible for the success of the songs, through her promotional activities and performances, she was therefore entitled to a bigger split.

The Deputy Master accepted firstly that Ms Buchanan appeared to be conflating publishing and performance royalties.  He noted that regardless of her involvement in promoting a song, this could not lead to an increase in her contribution to its composition.

Secondly, he found that, even if he was wrong about that, Ms Buchanan had failed to identify how the publishing splits should be corrected.  She accepted that all those recorded by the Performing Rights Society (“PRS”) as contributors had contributed and could not say which of their contributions should be reduced in order to increase her own.  Additionally, he noted that the splits had been recorded by PRS for many years such that it was hard to understand how Ms Buchanan claimed to have only recently been able to identify her share.

Finally, he suggested that, if there was a claim, it certainly was not against Xenomania, which was simply collecting and distributing royalties in respect of the artists which it publishes.

He therefore concluded that Ms Buchanan had not identified any reasonable basis for bringing her claim against Xenomania.

Importantly, the Deputy Master noted that the court could extend an indulgence to a party where an amendment to its pleadings might establish a potential cause of action that was not initially self-evident.  He stressed that this was not such a case.

Jamie Muir Wood of Hogarth Chambers, instructed by Mike Shepherd of Cadence Solicitors LLP represented Xenomania Songs Limited.