Dixie Chicks Claim Sony Robbed Them Of More Than $4 Million

Country pop singers file suit to terminate their contract with music company.

A month after Sony Corp. sued the Dixie Chicks for trying to migrate to a new nest, the country pop singers have filed a countersuit to terminate their contract, claiming the company robbed them of more than $4 million in

royalties through "systematic thievery."

The Grammy-winning, multiplatinum trio want to terminate a seven-album contract they negotiated with the company in 1997, which says the Chicks still owe the label five more albums. The ladies' suit claims they were duped into signing an unfair contract that uses a "Catch 22" clause to bind them to the company "no matter how blatantly and repeatedly Sony breaches its obligations to the Dixie Chicks."

"This is about people keeping their word," the Dixie Chicks said in a statement. "We refuse to sit back and silently endorse this behavior simply because this is a 'standard' practice at Sony ...We got tired of having to beat down the doors and send letter upon letter every time Sony breached our contract. It threatened to take us away from doing what we love, making music."

The suit, filed Monday in federal court in New York, alleges that Sony underreported sales figures and mischarged the Dixie Chicks for services, including "excessive producer royalty amounts." The suit goes on to claim that the company underpays its artists in part to gain leverage in obtaining additional albums from them.

The Chicks — Natalie Maines Pasdar, Emily Robison and Martie Seidel — have sold nearly 20 million albums that have generated more than $175 million, their suit states.

Sony Music sued the Dixie Chicks last month, asking the court to enforce their contract (see "Sony Sues Dixie Chicks"). A Sony spokesperson declined to comment on the Dixie Chicks' suit.

In its suit, Sony claims it revised the Dixie Chicks' original contract in 1999, but the group's management demanded yet another renegotiation. After failing to reach an agreement, the Chicks purportedly announced they were leaving. Sony claimed last month it had already "paid millions of dollars in royalties and advances" to the Chicks and that it was close to settling an audit dispute for an additional amount (see "Sony Follows Up Dixie Chicks Suit With Compliments").

The Chicks' lawsuit echoes many of the same complaints in Courtney Love's high-profile countersuit against Vivendi Universal, in which the Hole frontwoman alleges labels force artists to sign "unconscionable" contracts and practice crooked accounting.

A California state senator is holding a series of hearings to look into various record industry practices, with Love and Don Henley slated to testify at the first hearing, which will focus on recording contracts (see "Love, Henley Testimony Could Lead To New Contract Laws").