Kanye West: At It Again

Although Kanye West is seen as a huge influence in many ways, he's also notorious for his frequent outbursts and controversial comments. Who could forget when he stormed the stage at the 2009 MTV VMA’s to ruin Taylor Swift’s Best Female Video Award speech to announce that Beyoncé should have won? Or recently, when he went on a pro-Trump rant during the live taping of Saturday Night Live in New York City? He often tweets absurd things, such as a 13th Amendment tirade, and gets plenty of backlash from the public by doing so. Recently, Kanye enacted a lawsuit against EMI Music Publishing . . . and they sued him right back.  He wants to become an independent entity and handle his own publishing, to which EMI responded that he was in breach of contract. Someone who is as prone to lawsuits as Kanye may have a leg up in this situation, depending on the lawyers on EMI’s side.

In January 2019, with what seemed like another Kanye-esque rant, West claimed that he wanted to be released from his record and publishing deals. He sued EMI, Roc-A-Fella, Def Jam, UMG Recordings, and Bravado International Group. He accused EMI of “trying to lock him into a contract of ‘servitude’ that could last his entire life,” and he claimed that he would not be able to decide when he wanted to call it quits as a songwriter. EMI Publishing responded that he has signed multiple contract extensions with their company, and that he is unable to terminate his contract with them due to this factor. He attempted to have the case decided under California law. However, there is a clause in the contract that clearly states that the jurisdiction must take place in New York, and that any issues will be resolved under New York state law. EMI is trying to get the case to go to federal court, and they want West’s original lawsuit to be dismissed.

Last month, EMI Music Publishing fought back against West’s claims. They moved the lawsuit to federal court, and they argued that Kanye’s assertions are against copyright law. They also went against Kanye saying that he was not providing personal services. His contract essentially does prevent him from retiring during the contract’s term. He signed it before he hit it big with mainstream success. Regarding his effort to change the lawsuit from under New York law to California law, EMI is sticking to their guns. He has no way around this due to the clause in his contract. They claim that Kanye’s lawyers have made a “flagrant attempt to forum shop his way around” those clauses and that his contracts “remain in full force and effect in their entirety.” It is thought that Kanye might debate that companies cannot go against California’s crack at limiting “contractual servitude.” According to Variety.com, there's even the idea that EMI Music Publishing is trying to “block his 1st Amendment rights to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” It does not exactly say that Kanye cannot retire from the music business, rather that he cannot take an “extended hiatus." Apparently, this is a common part of a contract in the music publishing world. His contract with EMI has been renewed a few times during his career, which is a key point in the lawsuit. He should have known about this part of his agreement, and if he did not initially, he has had several opportunities to notice. His point is that he has been with EMI Music Publishing since 2003, and in California, there is a law that does not allow for personal-service contracts for more than seven years. One of the final things he wants to fight has to do with getting the ownership back of everything he has distributed since 2010. This claim allowed EMI can take the case to federal court from state court, which happened on Friday, March 1st. His option period for these songs would come up in 2045, thirty-five years after publication of the works. To see how this plays out and the disagreements that he will come forth with to this accusation will really show who will come out on top.

It will definitely be super interesting to see where this lawsuit goes. There are fair arguments on both sides. Kanye West has a pretty good chance at winning if he is able to get the court date to go under California law, while EMI Music Publishing has just about everything else on him. By the end of this process, the world could see Kanye West as a completely independent artist, in control of all of his works. Kanye West is a professional at lawsuits at this point in his life, and it will be very fascinating to see how he does in a case that does not involve copyright infringement. 

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