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Ronettes Lose Royalties Battle

The Ronettes can't collect movie and advertisement royalty rights to music they recorded for Phil Spector in the 1960s, New York's highest court ruled.

A contract that members of the pop group signed with Spector and his Philles record label in 1963 gives him the right to sell the songs for use as background music, the Court of Appeals decided in a 5-0 ruling.

The judges said that although the contract didn't mention the so-called "synchronization" use, under New York state contract law, the court couldn't conclude that the singers controlled the rights unless their contract specifically said they did.

The ruling threw out a $3 million judgment lower courts had made in favor of the Ronettes. The group has been in court seeking royalties since 1988.

Fronted by Spector's future wife, Ronnie Bennett Greenfield, the Ronettes recorded 28 songs for the Philles label from 1963-67. Under their contract, they received a one-time payment of $14,482 for their work, according to court papers.

Their 1963 hit "Be My Baby" appeared on the soundtrack for the 1987 movie "Dirty Dancing." Their songs also have been used in ads for American Express and Levi's jeans.

The judges ordered the case back to a trial-level court to determine how much the Ronettes are entitled to for use of their music in compilations and reissues. The Ronettes have royalty rights to that music, the court concluded.

"It's a mixed decision," Ronettes' lawyer Ira Greenberg said. "There are things we are happy with and things we are not happy with."

Spector's lawyer, Andrew Bart, said he was "gratified" with the ruling.

"It really confirmed what we felt all along; that is, a system of laws has to enforce contracts as written and if you don't, you have no certainty for the contracting parties," Bart said.