HOLLYWOOD HILLS—Merle Haggard’s company Hag LLC filed a lawsuit against Smith Music Group & Smith Entertainment on Friday, April 10, for allegedly refusing to pay royalties and for using the country musician’s name and likeness without approval.
According to court documents, the parties had three agreements with Haggard, the last of which expired in October 2009. The first and second agreement provided the sale and license of various songs. The first, authorized the sale and license of “Merle Haggard, Live at Billy Bob’s Texas,” which was later renamed “Merle Haggard, Motorcycle Cowboy, Live at Billy Bob’s.” The second agreement authorized the sale and license of “Merle Haggard, Ol’ Country Singer Cowboy, Live at Billy Bob’s Texas.” The final agreement called for the same rights for “Merle Haggard, I Wish I was Santa Claus.”
After the expiration of the third agreement, Smith Music Group continued to sell and license all three works “in reckless regard for the rights of Hag and in material breach of the agreements.” The company did not provide accounting to the plaintiff or pay proceeds due, according to the suit.
During the duration of the agreements, Smith Music Group allegedly refused to pay regularly for royalties and other payments due to Hag LLC. Smith Music Group continues to use Haggard’s name and likeness to promote albums and other products violating the agreements. The plaintiff claims that Smith Music Group has “refused to meaningfully communicate” with them despite their efforts of verbal and written notices.
The lawsuit is seeking unspecified damages.
Merle Haggard started his music career in 1963 and made it big by 1965 with the hit “(My Friends Are Gonna be) Strangers” which made it to the top 10 that year. He is known for his Bakersfield sound and outlaw country songs like “Mama Tried,” which came out in 1968, “Fightin’ Side of Me,” “Okie from Muskogee” and “Branded Man.” He collaborated with Glen Campbell, Buck Owens, and George Jones throughout his career. Haggard passed away from pneumonia at the age of 79 in Shasta County in April 2016.
Written By Christianne McCormick