The settlement was negotiated and obtained by the San Jose office of the international law firm Oppenheimer Wolff & Donnelly LLP. The plaintiffs in the case were Kuo Ying-Nan and his wife Kuo Hsin-Chu, elderly members of the small Ami tribe in a remote section of Taiwan.
"Now that this matter has been resolved, the Kuos will establish a foundation to preserve their tribe's culture in general and their music in particular," said E. Patrick Ellisen, an Oppenheimer attorney who represented the Kuos in the lawsuit.
"The foundation will record the fact that in the past year or so, the Kuos have become top-selling artists in Taiwan and in Japan," Ellisen added.
The original composition in dispute was the song "Return to Innocence," a worldwide best seller recorded by Michael Cretu and the European pop group Enigma. In their lawsuit, the Kuos said this song incorporates their "Jubilant Drinking Song," as they recorded it for a field survey of Taiwanese folk music.
Among the defendants named in the lawsuit was Virgin Records America. Today (June 23) the Kuos and Virgin Records issued this statement:
"Virgin Records America and Kuo Ying-Nan and Kuo Hsin-Chu ... are pleased to announce that they have settled all disputes between them. Virgin Records America thanks the Kuos for the important contribution that their arrangement and performance of the vocal chant `Jubilant Drinking Song' made to the song `Return to Innocence.'"
Under the settlement, Ellisen said, the Kuos will be given full attribution for their contribution to "Return to Innocence," including liner notes on all future releases featuring the work. They will also receive platinum copies of the album "Cross of Changes" on which "Return to Innocence" is recorded.
Ellisen said other terms of the settlement agreement were confidential.
Virgin Records was one of a number of defendants named in a complaint filed by the Oppenheimer law firm last year in federal district court in Los Angeles.
The Kuos -- he is 80 and in poor health and she is 79 -- are members of the Ami, a tribe indigenous to Taiwan. The Amis have a purely oral culture in which songs, chants and stories are passed down from generation to generation.
The Kuos are well-known creators and performers of Ami music, which prompted musical scholar Hsu Tsang-Houei to seek them out and record one of their songs as a sample of Ami folk culture.
A recording of the Kuos singing "Jubilant Drinking Song" a cappella was made probably during 1978 or 1979 and later included, without the Kuos' knowledge, in an album entitled "Chinese Folk Music Collection" published by the Chinese Folk Art Foundation.
"Mr. and Mrs. Kuo made this recording for cultural preservation purposes only," said Ellisen, a specialist in intellectual property law. "At no time did they grant anyone permission to commercialize their song. In fact, until friends recognized their voices on the recording and congratulated them, they weren't even aware of what had happened."
Through a chain of events, the Kuos' recording of "Jubilant Drinking Song" was included in an album published in France some years later and then, in 1994, was incorporated in "Return to Innocence," a track in Enigma's "Cross of Changes" album as well as numerous compilation albums and movie and TV program soundtracks.
"Return to Innocence" was on Billboard Magazine's international chart for 32 consecutive weeks and was adopted by the International Olympic Committee as the theme song of the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta.
For Oppenheimer Wolff & Donnelly LLP, San Jose
Richard F. Roper, 310/826-5512