When Los Angeles songwriter Richard Berry sold his songs to his publishing company 30 years ago, he had no way of knowing that he was signing away the rights to a future gold mine for $750.

One of those songs was “Louie Louie,” the garage-rock classic that was a smash hit for the Kingsmen in 1963 and was subsequently recorded by countless acts. Berry did receive some money from TV and radio play of the song but he viewed the prospect of ever receiving a slice of the vast publishing income as a “lost case.”

Then singer Gloria Jones told Berry about the Artists Rights Enforcement Corp., a New York company that provides information to attorneys pressing claims for artists’ royalty payments. Berry enlisted the firm’s services in 1982, and three years later, Artists Rights’ detective work opened the doors to a settlement.


Now Berry owns half the copyright to “Louie Louie,” and he began receiving publishing royalties last year. He says he received about $15,000 last year, and the checks figure to increase now that “Louie Louie” is the theme of the inescapable California Cooler commercials.

Chalk up another hit for Chuck Rubin, a former talent agent who founded Artists Rights in 1981 to combat one of pop music’s enduring scandals: the financial shortchanging of early rock and R&B; artists.

“If you get paid at the end of the week, you don’t have to hire an attorney and go to your boss and say, ‘Where’s my bucks?’ ” observed Rubin, 49. “Why should these artists, who created something where a record company has a super-hit, have to go to that company with an attorney in order to get paid?

“I can’t figure that out, but that is what consistently happens. That’s why Artists Rights Enforcement Corp. is out there and why royalty recovery is an issue. It’s the industry that created it.”

Rubin, a New Jersey native who moved to New York in 1966, is no stranger to the music business. He headed the rock division of a major booking agency during the ‘60s, managed Tommy James & the Shondells and worked with R&B; attractions like Kool & the Gang and the Commodores through the late ‘70s.

Then Wilbert Harrison, whom Rubin had managed when Harrison had his 1970 hit “Let’s Work Together,” approached Rubin. Harrison’s attorney had died while trying to track down missing royalties for the singer’s 1959 hit “Kansas City” and Rubin referred him to another lawyer, who agreed to take the case if Rubin would handle the research.

“I felt really good about this type of new work,” Rubin recalled during a phone interview from his New York City home. “I felt I had an ability to dig and get results, that I almost instinctively knew where to go. One thing I learned in that particular case is that Wilbert Harrison owned his own master recording and didn’t even know it.”

Word of Harrison’s success drew several other clients to Rubin. He intended to keep his detective work a sideline, but the moment of truth arrived when he contacted major labels on behalf of several oldies attractions.

“In ’80 or ‘81, I knew that if I made a particular call, I would be going against the system,” he said. “Well, I made that call. From that point on, I had a new job acting as the only fella attempting to get these artists their royalties.”

Artists Rights currently has more than 200 clients, including such prominent names as Bo Diddley, Etta James, the estate of Frankie Lymon and doo-wop groups the Spaniels and the Del-Vikings.

Unlike BMI and ASCAP, the licensing organizations that monitor and distribute royalties to publishers and songwriters, Artists Rights represents the writers and performers and aims to correct inequities. In fact, BMI has been a defendant in some AREC-assisted lawsuits.

One problem for Rubin was convincing his clients something could be done. Many had glossed over the royalty problem when they were riding high for fear of jeopardizing their careers. Some had assumed the case was hopeless after so many years.

AREC only furnishes research for legal cases and refers clients to attorneys. Rubin, one of the company’s two full-time employees, has used as many as 15 field workers around the country.

Rubin says that his clients are engaged in actions with virtually every company involved in re-issuing early rock classics--from Motown and MCA to labels packaging the oldies collections found in variety stores. Richard Berry was more fortunate than most of Rubin’s clients in being able to reach an amicable settlement over “Louie Louie.”

“We have had certain companies sued and many suits are still in progress,” said Rubin. “We can’t just fold.

“We can’t let them know that we are not going to press the claim to the fullest extent of the law if that’s the only thing left for us. We must let them know that we are fair but firm, and that’s the type of reputation we want.”

Rubin is paid a percentage of any money recovered. He characterized the sum as “large,” while declining to divulge the precise amount. Artists Rights is also widening its scope to arrange financial accommodations for artists when songs are included in films or television programs.

A new, growing problem area concerns unlicensed re-issues from Europe that are imported without royalty provisions for the artists.

But all those challenges are minor compared to the difficulties Rubin encountered establishing Artists Rights’ credibility as an advocate organization.

“It was very difficult and frustrating at first--I mean, forget about David and Goliath,” he joked. “The personal satisfaction is not only the love of the music but knowing that I am playing a role with the people who created the music that I grew up with.

“They now have the opportunity of collecting--in many instances, for the first time in 20 or 30 years--because of my involvement. I never would have imagined that happening when I was growing up listening to these great songs.”