- The foundation accuses 7 of his children of wrongfully claiming rights to his songs
- Their "improper" claims "created an enormous cloud" over the songs' value, lawsuit says
- Foundation: Charles' children gave rights to his estate in a 2002 deal with their father
- Controversy involves 51 songs, including "I Got a Woman," and "What'd I Say"
A foundation created by Ray Charles is suing seven of the late singer's children, accusing them of violating a deal with their father not to claim any rights to his estate.
The brewing battle in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles centers on 51 songs written or co-written by Charles. These include "I Got a Woman," the hit that brought him to national prominence in 1954, and "A Fool For You," "Mary Ann" and "What'd I Say," songs that topped the charts early in his career.
The Ray Charles Foundation accuses the adult children of sending copyright termination notices to music publishers claiming they owned the songs, which the foundation contends it owns.
Their "improper" claims "created an enormous cloud" over the songs' ownership, causing the "extreme likelihood that the value of these copyrighted assets will be permanently damaged," the foundation's suit alleges.
Charles created a $500,000 trust for each of his 12 children two years before his 2004 death in exchange for agreements from them that they "relinquished and waived any further claims to their father's estate," the lawsuit said.
The foundation supports research and education programs for the hearing impaired, as well as youth education programs, the suit said.
"The foundation depends upon the income received from the said intellectual property and contract rights to continue the wishes of Ray Charles," the suit said. Without the royalties from the music, it could not fund the programs, it said.
"The self-serving attempts on the part of the defendants to deprive the foundation of its said intellectual property and contract rights not only is contrary to the express wishes of their father and in breach of the agreement they signed and promises that they made, but is contrary to the best interests of those innocent parties who would be benefited by the grants made by the foundation," the suit said.
The four daughters and three sons listed in the lawsuit allegedly are trying to exploit a provision in the 1976 federal copyright act that allows copyright holders a one-time opportunity to renegotiate older copyrights, the suit said.
Charles renegotiated the copyrights in 1980, it said.
"Consequently, all of the termination of transfer notices served by the defendants pertaining to those musical compositions for which the 1980 agreement serves as a renegotiation are invalid," the suit said.
Some of the songs were also written as "work for hire," which are not subject to copyright renegotiations, it said.
The foundation is asking for $500,000 in damages from each of the seven children and an order preventing them from claiming any rights to the music.
The suit lists Marc Toberoff as the defendants' lawyer. Notably, he is also the attorney representing the estate of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel in its copyright battle with Warner Bros. over control of the superhero's future.
Toberoff's law firm did not immediately respond to a phone call and e-mail from CNN for comment.