Singer/songwriter Bobbie Cryner has sued her former producer and publisher Carl Jackson for total ownership of “Real Live Woman” and other of her songs not held or recorded under their original publishing agreement. “Real Live Woman” is the title cut and first single from Trisha Yearwood’s forthcoming album and, thus, a potentially valuable copyright.
Cryner, whose real name is Phyllis Cryner Maffett, recorded during the early and mid-1990s, first for Epic and then for MCA Records. Her highest-charting song was “You’d Think He’d Know Me Better,” which went to No. 56 in 1996. Jackson produced her Epic debut album. Other of her songs that charted were “Daddy Laid the Blues on Me,” “He Feels Guilty,” “You Could Steal Me” and “I Just Can’t Stand to Be Unhappy.”
Known initially as a banjo player for such acts as Jim & Jesse and Glen Campbell, Jackson has since made a name as a songwriter. His compositions or co-compositions include “Little Mountain Church House” (the International Bluegrass Music Association’s song of the year in 1990), “Put Yourself in My Place” and “No Future in the Past.” In 1991 he and John Starling’s Spring Training won a Grammy as best bluegrass album.
According to Cryner’s complaint filed Jan. 24 in U.S. District Court in Nashville, she signed a publishing agreement in 1991 with Famous Music under which Jackson, as co-publisher, was to have half of the assigned copyright ownership.
A note at the end of the agreement points out that a conflict of representation might arise from the fact that Cryner was using Jackson’s lawyer to negotiate the publishing contract. The note also specifies that Cryner knew and approved of this situation.
A clause in the agreement gave Cryner the right to reclaim from Famous all of her “unexploited” songs three years after the contract was terminated. On Sept. 15, 1999, Cryner wrote Famous asking that ownership to her unexploited songs (among which was “Real Live Woman”) be reassigned to her. She included with the letter a check for $19,584.34 to repay the advances the publisher had made to her and which had not been recouped by royalties her songs earned.
Famous responded on Sept. 28 in a letter noting that it was re-assigning only 50 percent of the rights and explaining that Jackson was asserting his right to the remaining 50 percent. The letter went on to say that Famous’ understanding of the 1991 contract was that Jackson was only eligible for half the rights Cryner has assigned to Famous. “[W]e believe, the letter continued, that you are entitled to an identical re-assignment from Mr. Jackson.” However, it concluded, “We leave you to argue that point with Mr. Jackson.”
Cryner’s complaint states that “… Jackson, despite Plaintiffs’ demand, has refused to re-assign Cryner’s rights to her, claiming that he owns an interest in the copyright in each of the Unexploited Compositions, including ‘Real Live Woman.'” The complaint argues that Famous could not assign to Jackson “any more rights than it owned.”
The suit asks the court to declare Cryner sole owner of the songs in question and for any additional relief it deems appropriate.