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Philly songwriter wins $44 mil in suit over Usher song

Usher is off the hook, though

Usher arrives at the 53rd annual Grammy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 13, 2011, in Los Angeles.
Usher arrives at the 53rd annual Grammy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 13, 2011, in Los Angeles.Read moreAP Photo/Chris Pizzello

A Philadelphia songwriter who claims he was not given credit for writing one of R&B star Usher's hit songs has been awarded more than $40 million in damages in the conclusion of a lawsuit targeted at the track's other two co-writers.

Daniel Marino was awarded the sum in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court last week, when a jury issued a verdict ordering defendant William Guice to pay $6.75 million in compensatory damages and $20.25 million in punitive damages.

The verdict joined a settlement earlier last week in which Destro Music Productions, owned by codefendant Dante Barton, agreed to pay Marino $17.35 million as part of a stipulated judgment, bringing his total award to $44.35 million. Marino also received a third of the ownership rights to the song in question, a transcription of court proceedings in the settlement indicated. Guice, Barton, and Destro were represented by attorney Jason C. Berger of Margolis Edelstein

The Legal Intelligencer reported that a pretrial memo noted "that the defendants did not have any insurance policies that would cover an award in the case."

According to a civil complaint, between 2001 and 2002, Marino worked with Guice and Barton to create and record "Club Girl," a song that would later be recorded and released by Usher on his 2004 album, Confessions, retitled as "Bad Girl." Marino, who was represented by Francis Alexander attorney Francis Malofiy, said via the complaint that he created a majority of the song, including its guitar hook, tempo, chord progression, and other elements, while Barton and Guice added a beat and lyrics, respectively.

The trio reportedly had a contract to split credit and compensation for their songs, but it was allegedly not honored after an employee of Usher's contacted the group about the track. The complaint indicates that Guice, Barton, and Destro signed "secret contracts" with Usher's camp, cutting Marino out of profits and credit. The songwriter also alleged that the co-defendants earned roughly $700,000 from "Club Girl."

The complaint says Barton "explicitly acknowledged that Marino was owed money" until 2009, after which he "mysteriously disappeared." Guice, meanwhile, left Pennsylvania "to parts unknown." After losing touch with his former co-writers, Marino began to believe "his friends had tricked him and stolen his credit and compensation."

In 2011, Marino filed a federal lawsuit against 20 defendants, including Guice, Barton, and Usher, alleging fraud, breach of contract, and other claims. A federal judge dismissed the case against every defendant except Guice and Barton, court records indicate. Marino filed his most recent suit in 2016.

The $44 million award comes following a new trial for Led Zeppelin in the "Stairway to Heaven" legal saga, in which the group is accused of copying a 1960s instrumental track by Spirit called "Taurus" for the hit song. Malofiy represents Spirit in that case, began in 2015.

Marino's $27 million verdict was decided on Oct. 11, the day President Trump signed the Music Modernization Act, which deals with copyright-related recording issues. The ruling and settlement also coincided with the release of Usher's latest album, A, which came out last week.

"For seven years, against all odds, we believed in our client and his claims," Malofiy said of the case via a release. "The $44.35 million verdict and judgment finally vindicates Mr. Marino."