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Did -- or did not -- restaurant chain properly pay for music use?

Who exactly is Music Dealers, and who does that business entity represent?

Those questions are at the heart of current litigation between Sony Music Entertainment -- a giant in its industry -- and the national restaurant chain Applebee's, which was commenced recently by the former.

In its lawsuit, which was filed in a California federal court, Sony alleges that, notwithstanding the defendant's claim to the contrary, it has never received payment for Applebee's use of music to which it owns copyrights.

The matter is actually a bit convoluted, with the material facts likely to emerge with some clarity only after the parties fully make their arguments in court.

On the one hand, Applebee's says that it lawfully followed through on its desire to use two pieces of well-known popular music in its commercials by paying licensing fees communicated by Sony to Music Dealers, which it states it understood to be acting as the entertainment company's business agent.

"Pure fiction," Sony has countered, insisting instead that representatives from Music Dealers -- which is no longer in business -- approached it as Applebee's agent.

And regardless, stresses Sony in its complaint, the agreement it reached with Music Dealers was not consummated by execution of the requisite written licensing agreements provided by the company.

Sony states that those were never signed. Applebee's may have forked over some cash, Sony notes, but none of it ever was ever received by Sony as payment under the licensing agreements.

Sony's litigation response now inheres in two separate claims it has brought against Applebee's for breach of contract (one for each piece of music used) and, additionally, damage claims for copyright infringement.

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