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Update: Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen sues Walter Becker’s estate over ownership of the band’s name

on November 27, 2017, 10:40am

Originally published – November 22nd: Steely Dan lead singer Donald Fagen has filed a lawsuit against the estate of his late bandmate Walter Becker over ownership of the band’s name and music, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

The foundation of the suit rests on a 1972 Buy/Sell Agreement signed by all of Steely Dan’s members. This particular contract stipulates that whenever a band member quits or dies, Steely Dan buys all of that member’s shares in the group. As Fagen and Becker were the last remaining shareholders, by this logic, upon Becker’s death in September, Fagen argues that all ownership rights should go to him.

(Read: Walter Beck, Glenn Frey, and a Sobering Realization About Dad Rock)

However, according to Fagen’s lawsuit, Becker’s estate disputes the terms of the contract. “By the 2010s, Fagen and Becker were the only remaining shareholders and signatories to the Buy/Sell Agreement,” attorney Louis “Skip” Miller noted in the complaint. “Four days after Becker’s death, on September 7, 2017, the Becker Defendants sent Fagen a letter stating that ‘We wanted to put you on notice that the Buy/Sell Agreement dated as of October 31, 1972 is of no force or effect.'” The estate’s letter went on to request that Becker’s widow be made an officer of Steely Dan and given 50% ownership of the band.

In his lawsuit, Fagen also asks to be granted access to the group’s website, which he claims is currently being operated by Becker’s estate. Fagen has also filed a separate lawsuit against Steely Dan’s management firm, Nigro, Karlin, Segal, Feldstein & Bolno, over accounting records that have allegedly been withheld from him.

Immediately following Becker’s death, Fagen made it clear that he wanted to continue on with Steely Dan. The group made its return to the road last month.

Update – November 27th: Becker’s estate has responded to Fagen’s lawsuit in a new statement. The estate says the the agreement which Fagen refers to in the suit was drafted 45 years ago and “was not in effect at the time of Walter’s death.”

The statement goes on to add that “Mr. Fagen’s lawsuit, riddled with half-truths and omissions, misleadingly fails to state that the day after Walter died, Mr. Fagen had his lawyer send a demand letter to Walter’s estate, thus beginning a legal campaign against Walter’s family immediately after his death. The misrepresentation that his widow, Ms. Cioffi initiated any litigious action is simply untrue. In our view, Mr. Fagen is unfairly trying to deprive Walter’s family of the fruits of their joint labors.”

Additionally, the estate says it was “close to a resolution with [Fagen’s] longtime counsel who he suddenly fired. We then negotiated in good faith with replacement counsel who Mr. Fagen also fired. Mr. Fagen’s third and current lawyer did not even attempt to contact us prior to filing a lawsuit.”

Read the full statement:

“We were disappointed to learn that Donald Fagen commenced a lawsuit against (the estate of) Walter Becker, his partner of 50 years, on the eve of Thanksgiving. We believe the agreement to which Mr. Fagen refers in his suit — drafted 45 years ago— was not in effect at the time of Walter’s death.

Mr. Fagen’s lawsuit, riddled with half-truths and omissions, misleadingly fails to state that the day after Walter died, Mr. Fagen had his lawyer send a demand letter to Walter’s estate, thus beginning a legal campaign against Walter’s family immediately after his death. The misrepresentation that his widow, Ms. Cioffi initiated any litigious action is simply untrue. In our view, Mr. Fagen is unfairly trying to deprive Walter’s family of the fruits of their joint labors.

Since Walter’s passing, we have endeavored to achieve a compromise with Mr. Fagen. We were close to a resolution with his longtime counsel who he suddenly fired. We then negotiated in good faith with replacement counsel who Mr. Fagen also fired. Mr. Fagen’s third and current lawyer did not even attempt to contact us prior to filing a lawsuit.

While we regret Mr. Fagen’s latest actions, we will vigorously defend against his unwarranted and frivolous case.”

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