No Retirement: A Reality That Mr. West Cannot Digest

Kanye West is claiming that he is stuck in an unfair and illegal publishing deal. He is saying, that his publishing deal with EMI should have expired in October, 2010, seven years after he signed it. The seven-year limit on contracts is a fairly common argument among musicians and bands, though it’s usually applied to record deals, not publishing.

Kanye’s demands that boil down to ownership and money. He wants the ownership EMI has over all his songs after October 1, 2010. According to the terms of his original 2003 contract, that’s 50% of his stake in each song. He also wants the last four years’ worth of money that EMI made from the post-October 2010 portion of his catalog. Kanye also wants EMI to pay all four of his attorneys’ fees.

EMI wants to move the case to federal court. This would disarm Kanye’s primary argument that involves a California law, not a federal one. EMI insists that the lawsuit is not about a contract they made with Kanye as a songwriter. They say it’s about who owns the copyrights to the songs in question. And copyright law is a matter for federal court.

EMI also points out that Kanye signed “modifications” of his contract seven separate times. The new question is: If the deal was so bad, they imply, why did you keep renewing it? Kanye’s point of view is that the way the modifications were applied, there was “no break in the services”—a key point if the case stays in California. The whole point of having contracts last only seven years is to give the person under contract a chance look around and consider other options. Kanye’s lawyers seem to be saying, never had that choice.

When Kanye’s lawsuit was first made public, a key part that everyone picked up on was its unusual claim that EMI had effectively banned the rap icon from retiring. This now-famous clause, quoted in the suit, is from the 2006 contract modification, which is not included in EMI’s filing. Notably, EMI does not dispute, or even address, the retirement issue in their filing. So it appears that several years into Kanye’s career, his publisher added language that said he had to keep on “pursuing Your musical career in the same basic manner as You have pursued such career to date” in order to make sure he would continue writing songs, and thus fulfill the terms of his contract.

Want to know what’s going to happen next? The next hearing will be on August 26th, 2019 at 8:30 a.m.

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