The rapper is suing EMI to ‘obtain his freedom’ from the dystopian contract, according to The Hollywood Reporter
Kanye West is suing his record label, EMI, over a bizarre clause in his contract that prevents the rapper from being legally allowed to retire. The Hollywood Reporter has obtained Kanye’s lawsuit against the label, which shows his byzantine contract.
“You (Mr. West) hereby represent and warrant that to (EMI) that You will, throughout the Term as extended by this Modification, remain actively involved in writing, recording and producing Compositions and Major Label Albums, as Your principle occupation,” the contract says. “At no time during the Term will you seek to retire as a songwriter, recording artist or producer or take any extended hiatus during which you are not actively pursuing Your musical career in the same basic manner as You have pursued such career to date. (The preceding representation shall not be deemed to prevent You from taking a vacation of limited duration.)”
Kanye entered into his EMI contract in 2003. Besides his suit against the label, he is also trying to exit agreements with Def Jam and Roc-A-Fella Records. The lawsuit argues that Kanye is seeking to “obtain his freedom”, arguing that the contract violates California Labor Code section 2855, which limits personal service contracts to no more than seven years. Those seven years would have ended in 2010, prior to the release of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Kanye says that EMI unjustly earned millions of dollars from his post-2010 output thanks to the “lopsided” contract.
He’s also suing for ownership of all the music that he produced after the seven-year mark. “The seven-year period ended under this contract on October 1, 2010. For more than eight years thereafter – more than double the maximum seven-year period California law allows – EMI has enforced rights in violation of California law, depriving Mr. West of the ‘breathing period’ that California law mandates,” the lawsuit says.
EMI may have anticipated this response when the contract was first drafted, as they’re relying on a part that says that “for purposes of California law”, the deal does not “constitute contracts for any of (West’s) personal services”, and instead only askes that he “deliver” to EMI his ownership interest in the songs he writes, rendering the labour law inapplicable. This would mean that the lawsuit would have to move from California court to federal court, turning it into a matter of copyright law – which requires that authors must wait 35 years after the date of publication to reclaim rights to their work.
In response, Kanye’s attorneys are saying that this loophole “reflects EMI’s awareness that its contract with Mr. West violated California public policy”, and the fact that the contract forbid his retirement in the first place is “comically inconsistent” with the label’s assertion that Kanye’s contract didn’t obtain his “personal services”.
When Kanye initially filed the suit in January, the complaint was almost entirely redacted, but thanks to EMI’s first move in the dispute, the unredacted contract has been made available.
As The Hollywood Reporter write, these contracts (and the ensuing lawsuits over them) aren’t unheard of: Kanye’s lawsuit cites Gone With The Wind actress Olivia de Havilland’s case with Warner Bros from the 1940s as a precedent. It also mentions that Olivia Newton-John and Thirty Second to Mars faced similar contacts.
There’s a glib kind of irony in the situation, given his ‘slavery is a choice’ comments last year, but irrespective of how you feel about Kanye, the contract is completely bananas and no musician should be locked into a deal like this. Major labels – they’re bad, folks.