A year ago, Toronto songwriter Anslem Douglas was riding high -- and expecting a huge windfall -- from his hit song, Who Let the Dogs Out. That unmistakable ditty with the "woof, woof, woof" chorus that resonates in your head. For hours. For days.
The Baha Men's high-voltage version in early 2000 of Douglas's tune, which basically likens sex-crazed men to restless pooches, blasted through radios and television sets across the land. It steadily climbed the charts, selling about three-million copies worldwide. Spectators chanted to it in stadiums and arenas. The band played it live at the 2000 World Series, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, and Dick Clark's New Year's Eve special.
It set the tone for countless TV commercials, was on the Rugrats in Paris soundtrack, even won a Grammy. It propelled the Baha Men to household-name status.
And all the while, Douglas was patiently waiting for "his ship to come in," as he told the media last summer. In other words, the soca artist (soul and calypso) was waiting for his big pay day, for his chance to collect the hundreds of thousands in royalties linked to the million-dollar song.
Well, the months have passed, and Douglas's boat-load of dough still has not docked. Instead of being handed a six-figure cheque, Douglas has been slapped with lawsuits from a long line of mostly Canadian songsmiths who claim Who Let the Dogs Out was their song, too.
Rather than celebrating, Douglas has been litigating, leaving many music-industry types scratching their heads over who really did let these dogs out?
Ongoing, for instance, is a nasty bit of legal wrangling between Douglas and his one-time Who Let the Dogs Out collaborator Ossie Gurley in courts in New York and Toronto. Gurley, who is also based in Toronto, contends he is entitled to half of Douglas's royalty take from the song because he wrote the original music (Douglas wrote the words).
Douglas's lawyer, Ronald Slaght, would not comment on the specifics of the lawsuit, but suggested Gurley's claim has about as much merit as the suit launched a few years ago by Vancouver record producer Daryl Neudorf against singer Sarah McLachlan. (Neudorf sued the Vancouver superstar and her record label, Nettwerk, claiming he wasn't properly compensated for his work on four songs on her 1988 debut album Touch. He maintained he co-wrote the songs but never received proper credit or royalties. The British Columbia Supreme Court ruled against him).
Slaght says Gurley "arranged" the song, but did not co-author it. Douglas did not return calls.
That legal mudslinging -- examinations are now under way on both sides of the border now -- is at the crux of an imbroglio that involves Wingspan Records, a small independent hip-hop label out of Virginia, who is battling Deston Songs of New York over ownership of the publishing rights to the song.
Wingspan released the hip-hop version of Who Let the Dogs Out by Chuck Smooth in 1999, and developed a publishing partnership with Gurley, who claims he is the composer of the music of the Baha Men's version. Deston contends that its agreement with Douglas, the writer of the words of the song, gives it 100-per-cent ownership of the publishing.
Smooth's version debuted on the Billboard charts almost two years before the Baha Men released their song of the same name. Now Gurley and Wingspan allege they're entitled to some compensation because of Gurley's input to the song.
It gets messier, and more confusing, still.
Last week, two Toronto producers, Leroy Williams and Patrick Stephenson, disclosed they had settled, out-of-court, a lawsuit against Douglas and Deston Songs in which they claimed they were entitled to some credit and payback from Who Let the Dogs Out because they were the authors of the "woof, woof, woof" part.
In their lawsuit, Williams and Stephenson, who own a small R&B production label in downtown Toronto called Action Hitaz, said they wrote the canine hook for the song. The settlement is subject to a confidentiality agreement so few details are available.
But the duo said they got "some financial compensation" and they were presented with Triple Platinum Certification plaques for Who Let the Dogs Out that lists them as creative contributors.
This week, both men said they felt vindicated by the agreement. "We did this song," says Williams, who adds he wrote the hook in 1995 in a rap verse to use on a local radio promotion.
"We settled because we don't have a slew of lawyers like they do," the 33-year-old musician says. "We just wanted to get our credit. It puts us in a place where hopefully we'll get more recognition and more work."
And so the saga goes.
The Douglas camp contends that he completed Who Let the Dogs Out in 1996. Two years later, he recorded it for the Trinidadian Carnival. His version was released on a compilation CD for the 1998 festival. Then along came Deston Songs, founded by songwriter Desmond Child, who purchased the rights to the song from Douglas.
The Baha Men rejigged it, named their album Who Let the Dogs Out,which ended up a Grammy winner for the Bahamian group.
At this point in the song's genealogy, it's impossible to say who wrote it, composed it, or who, ultimately, will get credit for it.
But the fact that various parties are now battling for a piece of it does not surprise many in the music racket. As Deston Songs president David Simone puts it: "Where there is a hit, there is a writ," he said tersely this week.
"We have no further comment."