“Linus and Lucy” and Lawsuits: Guaraldi Heirs Sue for Royalties

Charles Schulz's Peanuts featured Linus Van Pelt quoting Victorian scholar and critic John Ruskin (“The best grace is the consciousness we have earned our dinner.”) and also spawned the animated schlockfest It's Flash Beagle, Charlie Brown. Its Christmas special, which bemoaned the commercialization of the holiday, served as a beachhead for a commercial empire, and its dazzling soundtrack became one of the most popular — and popular-selling — Christmas albums of all time.

Peanuts was not without its contradictions, and here's one more: The beloved 1965 soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas has become the source of an acrimonious lawsuit. The children of San Francisco-born composer Vince Guaraldi claim that the Concord Music Group and its predecessor, Berkeley's Fantasy Records, for years engaged in “a system” of “serving false and deceptive statements while underreporting units sold and underpaying royalties.” Their lawsuit, filed on the cusp of Christmas in Oakland, claims a private accountant uncovered a discrepancy of at least $2 million — not peanuts — for the years 2005 to 2010 alone. When asked if the alleged wrongdoing goes back decades further, plaintiffs' attorney Alan Neigher quickly responds, “Well, we hope it does.”

Lawsuits by established musical acts against their old record labels are as ubiquitous as copies of Happiness Is a Warm Puppy at rummage sales. In fact, Creedence Clearwater Revival sued Concord in May of last year, claiming a CCR auditor turned up an $811,000 discrepancy for a three-and-a-half-year period during which it alleges the record company shortchanged the group on its royalty rate. (Yes, the composers of “Centerfield” and Charlie Brown's “Baseball Theme” share a record label.)

The Guaraldis' suit, however, goes further, essentially alleging a long-running conspiracy. “The accountant's review of Concord Music's records revealed evidence of systematic false reporting of sales and underpayment of royalties,” reads the suit. “Concord Music learned of and became a willing participant in a pattern of misreporting and underpayment.”

When asked for examples of the auditor's findings — or a copy of the 2008 smoking gun royalty statement the suit claims revealed the shenanigans of earlier years — Neigher declined. The vital proof of the Guaraldis' assertions, like the Great Pumpkin, remains unseen. Messages for Concord were not returned.

This case seems destined for a lengthy slog in court — barring, of course, an inspiring speech by Linus Van Pelt, which would inevitably conclude with, “And that's the true meaning of contractual obligations, Charlie Brown.”

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