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Rick James’ estate and Universal Music face a federal lawsuit by a trio of songwriters Leroy O’Neil Jackson Jr, James Calloway, and Aaron “Sonny” T. Davenport. Defendants are accused of breaching contract and copyright infringement dating back to a 1979 contract where Rick James would revert the copyright to the trio after five years. The group only received royalties in 1984 through a lawsuit and is now seeking unspecified damages and a temporary injunction use of their work for a profit.

The trio created three demos at Blank Tapes Studios in 1979, where they wrote and recorded the song “Big Time.” “That night, James and the Motown execs met up with the trio, where they played him the demo. According to the songwriters, James “expressed he was impressed with the song and said it would be perfect for his upcoming fourth album to be released with the Gordy and Motown Record label. Mr. James asked Mr. Adams to help them work out the details to ensure that “Big Time” was on Mr. James’ album titled Garden of Love.”

“Since in or around 1990, Plaintiffs have made efforts to engage legal counsel to assist them with the collection of unpaid mechanical writers’ royalties only to be turned away by attorneys unwilling to represent Plaintiffs on a contingency fee basis,” the suit explained. “Finally, in or around 2020, Plaintiffs engaged attorney Charles Matlock from Chicago, Illinois, to assist them with the collection of unpaid mechanical writers’ royalties.”

The songwriters say the song was registered with the U.S. Copyright Office in 2020. Since then, they allege that James’ estate has released a documentary and soundtrack featuring their music. “Despite requests from Plaintiffs to Defendants, Plaintiffs have never received a single accounting statement nor payment for mechanical royalties for “Big Time” from Defendants. Defendants nevertheless continue to distribute and exploit the composition by releasing and distributing digital and physical phonorecords of Plaintiffs’ copyrighted work and are liable for intentional copyright infringement,” the suit reads via RadarOnline.

– Excerpt from an article for Popculture by Ashley Turner. Read the full article here.


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