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New York artist says Megadeth never paid him for album artwork now seen by millions

Members of the band Megadeth are wearing suits and tuxedos as they stand on stage at the 2017 Grammy Awards.

From left: Dirk Verbeuren, Kiko Loureiro, David Ellefson, and Dave Mustaine of “Megadeth” accept the award for best metal performance for “Dystopia” at the 59th annual Grammy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 12, 2017, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP)

A New York artist says that the award-winning metal group Megadeth used his artwork on its latest album without his permission — and without paying him for it.

Brent Elliott White, a freelance illustrator and designer, has accused the heavy metal band of using his work on the cover of its 2022 album, “The Sick, The Dying… And the Dead!” without a contract that granted them permission to do so. He sued the band, its management 5B Artists + Media, and Universal Music Group in federal court in New York last week, alleging copyright infringement and violations of New York’s “Freelance Isn’t Free” Act.

That law ensures that freelance workers have a right to a written contract, “timely and full payment,” and protection from retaliation. White says that not only did Megadeth and its representatives fail to offer a contract and pay him, but they also retaliated against him by threatening to “start over” with negotiations.

According to White, who has previously designed two Megadeth album covers, the 2022 album artwork was years in the making. The band allegedly approached him in early 2020 about creating a “design concept” for the album, and the final product was the result of “hundreds of hours of work” and revisions that reached into 2021. But by June 2022, the complaint states, White hadn’t been paid.

“By text, Plaintiff reminded [Megadeth manager Bob] Johnsen that he still did not have a written contract with Megadeth and had not been paid for his work,” the complaint said. White told Johnsen that “any sendoff, including album art, is contingent on compensation and contract.”

Johnsen promised that a contract was forthcoming, White said, but none appeared. The album was released with White’s artwork, but he wasn’t credited, he said.

“On June 23, 2022, without a signed agreement with Plaintiff in place and without paying Plaintiff anything for his work, Megadeth knowingly released Plaintiff’s artwork and — shockingly to Plaintiff — credited its lead singer, Dave Mustaine, for the album’s ‘Art Concept.'”

The next day, White told Universal Music Group that he never signed over the copyright to his work.

“I assumed someone would reach out to me to have this done before the album went out,” he said, according to the complaint, adding: “We don’t have a contract or art release or usage agreement. Not trying to get legal here but since we don’t have a rights transferred agreement copyright does reside with me.”

White says the band responded by trying to “force Plaintiff to accept the same terms as the first Megadeth album he provided artwork for.” White didn’t go for that. He also said that in 2021, Johnsen said he would pay him the amount he had spent working on the album artwork to date — a total of $21,500 — but only in exchange for a “total buyout” of White’s intellectual property rights to his artwork. White refused.

Despite being at a standstill and not having a contract at that time, White’s work with Megadeth continued.

Since the album’s 2022 release, White says, his work has been seen by millions. In addition to the album purchases and digital streams, Megadeth allegedly released YouTube videos with White’s cover art. White says those videos have been viewed more than 5 million times.

“[V]ideos featuring characters that Plaintiff has created (or derivatives thereof) have been viewed nearly two million times,” White added.

White also says that band merchandise, such as T-shirts and sweatshirts bearing his artwork, has been sold for hundreds of dollars apiece and worn by other musicians and celebrities. He alleges that his work has also been licensed to major retailers including Walmart, Amazon, and Hot Topic — and he hasn’t been paid for any of it.

White noted that the heavy metal band was nominated for a best metal performance award at the 2023 Grammys, but lost to metal legend Ozzy Osbourne.

White is seeking an injunction barring the band from using his artwork and an accounting of all profits derived from the sale of any product that featured it, as well as unspecified compensatory damages.

Read the complaint here.

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