A California Court of Appeals yesterday (June 18) found that former DEAD KENNEDYS frontman Jello Biafra still owes bandmates guitarist East Bay Ray, bassist Klaus Flouride and drummer D.H. Peligro more than $200,000 in compensatory and punitive damages because his label, Alternative Tentacles, withheld money from the band partnership, Decay Music. Biafra's attempts to dissolve the partnership and gain sole custody over the KENNEDYS' music was also denied, according to Rolling Stone.
"From the beginning of this ordeal, neither Klaus, D.H. nor myself wanted to go to court to settle something that should have been handles reasonably between us," East Bay Ray told the magazine. "This ruling clearly says that DEAD KENNEDYS and Decay Music are a full partnership. Biafra, regrettably, is left as the only one who thinks otherwise."
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.
"We wanted Biafra to recognize our vote in how we wanted our music released," Flouride said. "No one seemed to understand that by DEAD KENNEDYS and Decay Music controlling our own catalog, Jello still gets 100% of his record royalties and his music publishing, which is exactly what he is entitled to. We just wanted an equal say in all matters that pertained to the band."