Hard to believe but 29 years after the song’s release, legendary dance music producer, remixer and pioneering DJ Shep Pettibone just won his lawsuit against Warner Music Group over royalty payments for Madonna’s smash hit “Vogue.”
Warner Music Group and its publishing arm, Warner/Chappell, had been withholding royalty payments due to Pettibone (who is co-writer of the 1990 song) over the determination of a separate lawsuit over sampling.
VMG Salsoul – yeah, that Salsoul – had sued over the claim that “Vogue” used an uncleared sample of the 1976 Salsoul Orchestra production “Ooh I Love It (Love Break)”.
The specific claim was that “Vogue” used a sample of a horn of “Love Break” – from Pettibone’s own remix of “Love Break.” In a 2015 interview, Pettibone called the lawsuit “frivolous” and “just lies. It’s just amazing that somebody could come up with a concoction of ‘We found a new technology that proves that you sampled and stole this sound and put it in your song,’ when they were using something called waveform technology,” he said, “which had been around since the ’80s. So all that stuff came out, we went to musicologists. Oh my gosh, so much stuff to prove that the sound had been re-created, not taken from the record.”
Though the lawsuit was decided three years ago, an appeals court denied Warner’s claim that Salsoul had to pay their attorney fees. As a result, Pettibone alleged, Warner withheld his royalties for “Vogue” in an attempt to pay for their lawyers. The fees are reportedly approaching $1 million, according to celebrityaccess.com.
The US Court of Appeals ruled in Pettibone’s favor in a decision on April 18, 2019, claiming that the original indemnification contract between Pettibone and Warner was “tortured, garbled and ambiguous.”
Pettibone worked frequently with Madonna prior to and after “Vogue.” “She came into the studio,” he told Billboard in 2015, “and said, ‘I hope you don’t mind, but I’m going to call it “Vogue.” And vogueing was almost kind of over at that point. At least in the underground dance scene. Not over, but it had been done, let’s put it that way…”
Pettibone hung up his headphones more than 20 years ago. He opened the Paradise Nightclub inside The Empress Casino in Asbury Park, New Jersey in 1998.