NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Sunday, January 24, 2016, 9:38 PM
A founding member of influential South Bronx funk band ESG is still struggling to get millions of dollars in royalties — including money from a song considered one of the most sampled in modern music.
“Money is getting made, and I’m not getting my share,” Deborah Scroggins recently told the Daily News.
Deborah, Renee and Valerie Scroggins started ESG — an acronym for Emerald, Sapphire and Gold — in the late 1970s.
After performing at a New York City Housing Authority talent show in 1980, Ed Bahlman, of the now-defunct 99 Records, recruited the self-taught musicians. Scroggins was 16 at the time, according to a lawsuit filed in Manhattan.
Their song “UFO” became a staple among musicians — being sampled some 400 times by rap icons Notorious B.I.G., Big Daddy Kane and the Beastie Boys. Yet Scroggins, 51, claims she only got money for live performances — not a dime for recordings that use her work.
Now she’s suing her sister Renee, Universal Music Group and the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, as well as the indie label Fire Records. She’s seeking $ 85 million in damages and the return of the master tapes and attorney fees.
“I was always just completely getting crapped on,” she said. The Brooklyn resident said she got kicked out of ESG around 1987 for demanding her fair share.
In 2000, she started registering with ASCAP as a writer and publisher of the songs she worked on — but that didn’t help. Registering songs she co-wrote and performed with the Library of Congress didn’t help either, she says in her suit.
She finally sued her sister in Brooklyn federal court in 2009, saying they’d cheated her out of the copyrights and royalties. They came to an agreement in 2012, which Scroggins thought stipulated she would handle the “UFO licensing,” her suit says. But Universal subsequently told her Fire Records owned the masters and publishing rights to all ESG works — which she claims in the suit were obtained “fraudulently and illegally” during her legal dispute with Renee Scroggins.
In past court filings, Renee Scroggins has not only rejected Deborah’s claim to writing credit — but outright downplayed her role in the band.
“The name E.S.G means Emerald (Valerie’s birth sign) Sapphire (Renee’s birth sign) Gold (which my sister Valerie and I wanted to achieve),” Renee Scroggins said in court documents in 2012. “She (Deborah) is not even included in the name because she was nothing more than a compensated stage performer.”
Neither Universal, Fire records, nor ASCAP responded to requests for comment. Neither Renee nor Valerie Scroggins could be reached. ESG has recently been on tour in Europe.