Thirty-six years after "Why Do Fools Fall In Love?" was a hit, a jury has decided the song's authors were cheated out of their share of profits.
The jury Tuesday found in favor of Jimmy Merchant and Herman Santiago, both 52, who claimed they received only $ 1,000 for the 1956 hit that has sold more than 3 million records.
A second hearing will determine how much is owed, said U.S. District Magistrate Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald.
Carl Person, attorney for both, estimated the men are owed $4 million.
"We're very excited," Merchant said. "The blessing comes after a long period of suffering."
The pair perform occasionally as "The Teen-agers," but Santiago is unemployed and Merchant, a cab driver, said he has $110 in the bank. Both live in New York.
The pair said in a lawsuit filed in October 1987 that they were 15 years old when they wrote the lyrics and melody to "Why Do Fools Fall In Love?" Person said the song rose to No. 1 on some charts. On Billboard magazine's pop chart, it rose as high as No. 6.
According to court papers, recordings included covers by artists such as the Beach Boys and Joni Mitchell and an album in 1981 by Diana Ross entitled "Why Do Fools Fall in Love?"
Person said the case was unique because it stretches back four decades. Usually, he said, a copyright case can only be brought for injuries during the past three years.
During a four-day trial beginning last week, Santiago told jurors he was threatened in 1969 by a music company executive who told him, "Don't come down here anymore or I'll have to kill you or hurt you."
"I felt in my heart that I wrote this song and I wanted to get paid for it," he said. "After being threatened to be killed or hurt, I never went back there."
He showed jurors an original printing of the record naming him one of the songwriters and lyricists.
The jury found the pair was entitled to any royalties since receiving threats in 1969.
Named as defendants were: Emira Lymon, widow of Frankie Lymon, the singer on the original recording; Morris Levy, who bought the copyrights to the song; Big Seven Music Corp.; Roulette Records Inc. and Broadcast Music Inc.
Levy has since died. Royalties would be paid by his estate.
Ira Greenburg, an attorney for the defendants, said he will appeal. He said the verdict provides "powerful incentive for other oldies artists to come out of the woodwork" and suddenly claim ownership of songs.
"Thirty-some years have gone by since the song came out and a lot of the witnesses are either dead or retired or missing," he said.
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