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Ray Charles Foundation sues singer's son over book

November 19, 2010 |  9:28 am

Youdon'tknowme_cover The Ray Charles Foundation on Wednesday filed suit in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles against Ray Charles Robinson Jr., the singer's son, for copyright infringement over a photo and lyrics in his book "You Don't Know Me: Reflections of My Father, Ray Charles."

Publisher Crown, parent company Random House and coauthor Mary Jane Ross were also named as defendants.

Pop & Hiss, The Times' music blog, reported:

The Foundation, which Charles assigned as the owner of his copyrights and intellectual property rights upon his death in 2004, alleges that Robinson's book used a copyrighted photo, the titles and lyrics of four of his songs without permission.

Those songs are among Charles' best-known, including "I Got a Woman," "Hallelujah I Love Her So" and "What Kind of Man Are You?"

It seems ridiculous for the foundation representing the father's legacy to sue his eldest son over use of a photograph and lyrics. But the action stems from longstanding tensions between the foundation and those who survived Ray Charles, including a dozen children.

In 2008, The Times' Michael Hiltzik reported on the disputes over Charles' estate, then estimated at $50 million in securities and other assets, plus $25 million for his original masters. 

Charles exercised iron control over his music and recordings, but his legacy is in disarray, knotted up in legal disputes between the estate's management and his family members, according to interviews, court documents and correspondence from the California attorney general's office.

At the time, Robinson said, "My father told me, 'You have my name, and you'll be able to use it.'"

Given the tensions, it's surprising that Crown didn't have complete clearance for the songs and photograph in dispute. Perhaps the publisher thought it did -- it has not yet commented on the suit.

-- Carolyn Kellogg