Smashing Pumpkins Sue Virgin Records Over Pepsi Promotion

Frontman Billy Corgan claims former label's use of the band's songs for a Pepsi Stuff contest 'irreparably harmed the group.'

The Smashing Pumpkins filed suit on Monday against their former label, Virgin Records, claiming that Virgin illegally used their name and music in promotional deals that hurt the band’s credibility with fans.

“We fought hard for the right to be in control of how our music is used, to avoid situations like this kind of crass commercialism and exploitation,” singer Billy Corgan wrote in a statement on the legal action released Tuesday (March 25). “Labels like EMI are no longer running the show, and we won’t be bullied by those in the ‘old’ music business who consider every artist to be easily expendable. Those days are over.”

The breach-of-contract suit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court claims that the band worked hard for “over two decades to accumulate a considerable amount of good will in the eyes of the public,” but that Virgin’s licensing of the Pumpkins’ music in the Pepsi Stuff promotion threatens their reputation for “artistic integrity.” It accuses the label of using the band’s music for profit without its knowledge and claims that the actions, “irreparably harmed the group, their reputation and good will with their fans.” The band claims that the Pumpkins’ music and likeness have been vigilantly guarded and that together they “convey a message of honesty, artistic integrity and alternative non-mainstream culture” that has been harmed by Virgin’s actions.

The Pepsi sweepstakes-like campaign, a partnership with Amazon.com’s MP3 site, was heavily promoted and included a buzzed-about Super Bowl commercial starring Justin Timberlake and “Saturday Night Live” star Andy Samberg. According to The Associated Press, the Pumpkins say Virgin, which released the band’s music for more than 17 years, only has the right to sell digital downloads of the Pumpkins’ songs. The suit claims that their contract does not allow Virgin to use their music in promotional campaigns to sell outside products, and the bandmembers say they would never “grant such authority to Virgin, or any other entity.”

The band explains in the release that the Pumpkins, “would never have granted such authority to Virgin, or any other entity, because they govern the use of its name, likeness and musical works in conjunction with any commercial affiliation or sponsorship. Therefore, the suit indicates ‘Virgin has deceived and confused the public into believing that Plaintiff is affiliated with the promotion and/or that Plaintiff itself is participating in the promotion.’

“It’s a frustrating situation, honestly, to be treated so poorly by a label where we had so much success,” Corgan said. “Recently, they have ignored our pleas to give our fans special editions of our old albums, telling us they weren’t interested. So there is a tremendous amount of hypocrisy involved with them turning around and using us like this.”

The suit from the band — which reunited in 2006 with just two original members, frontman Corgan and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, to release 2007′s gold-selling Zeitgeist — demands that Virgin give a full account of the funds received from the promotion and that the Pumpkins receive damages from those profits, as well as seeking an injunction against using the band’s music or name in the future.

Spokespeople for Virgin and the Smashing Pumpkins could not be reached for further comment at press time.

[This story was originally published at 11:52 am E.T. on 03.25.2008]

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