A Charlie Brown Christmas Composer Vince Guaraldi's Heirs Suing for $2M in Unpaid Royalties

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​Given the time of year, you've probably seen -- and heard -- A Charlie Brown Christmas recently. The 1965 animated TV special's celebrated soundtrack was performed by noted San Francisco jazzman Vince Guaraldi's trio, and recorded at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley.

But for the pianist and composer's children, the 2011 holiday season hasn't been carefree: Just before Christmas, they filed a lawsuit against the Concord Music Group to reclaim what they say are more than $2 million in unpaid royalties from the Charlie Brown recording, according to a story today in the Daily Journal, a California legal newspaper.

Journal reporter Erica E. Phillips writes that Vince's children, David and Dia Guaraldi, filed a lawsuit on Friday claiming that Concord Music, which merged with Fantasy Records in 2004,

underpaid royalties on digital sales of their music, which they say should have been calculated at a 50 percent "master licensed" rate rather than the usual 12 to 20 percent royalty earned on a physical "record sold."

These kinds of claims are fairly common nowadays, but the Guaraldi suit goes even further:

The complaint states that Fantasy Records [...] reduced the royalty rates and reduced the contractual base prices it used to calculate payments to Guaraldi's heirs. The Guaraldis didn't discover the discrepancies until 2008, when Concord changed the format of its statements, according to the lawsuit.

The royalty statements presented information in a manner which made it impossible for a reader [...] to determine from the face of the statements that they were false or deceptive," the complaint stated. According to audits, the complaint added, Concord owes the Guaraldis at least $2 million in unpaid royalties, plus interest.

Attorneys representing Concord Music Group didn't respond to the Journal's request for comment. But it's worth noting that another classic Bay Area group that recorded for Fantasy -- Creedence Clearwater Revival -- filed a similar suit against Concord Music in May.

Guaraldi, who died in 1976, was born in San Francisco, attended Lincoln High School in the Sunset, and studied at SF State. He got the Charlie Brown gig through Ralph Gleason, longtime jazz critic for the San Francisco Chronicle and mentor to Jann Wenner, founder of Rolling Stone magazine.

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