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01/16/01 - Music Industry News Network

Dead Kennedys Plan New Archival Releases Following Judgement Against Former Lead Singer Jello Biafra

LOS ANGELES, CA - January 16, 2001 - Thanks to a court's ruling on December 22, 2000 that affirmed a jury's decision against former lead singer Jello Biafra, more albums and videos are now in the offing from Dead Kennedys, one of the defining bands of hardcore punk. New material could be available as early as spring 2001. According to the band's former guitarist, East Bay Ray, several labels have already been in contact with the band's partnership, Decay Music, about releasing digitally remastered albums, previously unreleased live albums, and home videos. The Dead Kennedys' catalog previously had been controlled by Biafra's Alternative Tentacles Records label.

"The jury found that Biafra purposely defrauded us, his band mates and partners," said the band's former bassist, Klaus Flouride. "This was about equality, fairness and the democracy of a band. We did the Dead Kennedys together, it was a collaboration, and each of us has a voice in our future. Now the money he was taking as the label will be shared with all the band members."

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Anne Bouliane concurred in the May 19th decision of a jury which found that Decay Music had legally terminated its license with Alternative Tentacles and that the band partnership Decay Music controls the rights to Dead Kennedys and operates by majority rule. Judge Bouliane also formally entered the jury's judgment against Biafra (Eric Boucher), requiring payment of damages of nearly $200,000, including $20,000 in punitive damages, to the band members. Biafra will receive back a share of the judgment as a band member.

"We have all been involved in music since Dead Kennedys disbanded, as musicians and producers," former drummer D.H. Peligro pointed out. "This was never about the money. This was about principle, about being fair with the guys you're with in a band."

In 1997, an employee at Alternative Tentacles Records discovered that Dead Kennedys had been underpaid $76,000 in royalties over a 10-year period. Biafra did not tell his fellow band mates about the underpayment but instead attempted to use the band's own royalties as a bargaining chip to get the others to sign to his label in perpetuity worldwide. Later, a whistle blower at the label informed the band that these were actually royalties owed to them and when confronted, Biafra refused to compensate the band without a court order. Left with little choice, the band voted to cut Decay Music's ties with Alternative Tentacles and filed suit in October 1998 to have Biafra recognize majority vote and for back royalties.

A jury ruled in favor of Decay Music after a three-week trial in May 2000, finding that "Alternative Tentacles Records engaged in fraudulent conduct" and that "Biafra breached his contractual and fiduciary obligations to plaintiff [Dead Kennedys], even though the royalties were finally released to the band in January 2000." The jury also found Biafra and Alternative Tentacles were "guilty of malice, oppression and fraud" in committing these acts. Malice was defined for the case as "conduct which is intended to cause injury or despicable conduct which is carried with a willful and conscious disregard for the rights of others. Despicable conduct is conduct which is so vile, base, contemptible, miserable, wretched, or loathsome that it would be looked down upon and despised by ordinary decent people."

Biafra was also found liable for failing to promote the band's catalog, instead using the profits to promote his label and his solo efforts to the band's detriment. Because the case was brought by a partnership, the damages were limited to only two years, though Biafra has owned Alternative Tentacles since the band broke up in 1986.

Dead Kennedys will continue as a democracy and partnership. Ray said Biafra will be invited to vote on all pertinent partnership issues as usual. Biafra also continues to share in the band's royalties, in fact receiving a higher percentage because of his lyric writing.

With each of the four having a vote, Ray said the Dead Kennedys are likely to allow the release of digitally remastered editions of the band's albums, never before released live albums and home video packages culled from more than 60 hours of taped performances. Said D.H., "There's a whole generation of kids who are into the band, but never saw us live. It's about laying it down for the people."

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last updated 08/05/03