Trax Records, the independent record label based in Chicago, is facing a copyright lawsuit from two of its own producers. According to Pitchfork News, Robert Owens and Larry Heard (who is also commonly known as “Mr. Fingers”) have filed the copyright lawsuit against Trax for allegedly failing to pay royalties.
Owens and Heard (the Plaintiffs) have alleged that Trax built up its music portfolio “by taking advantage of the unsophisticated but creative house-music artists and songwriters by having them sign away their copyrights to their musical works for paltry amounts of money up front and promises of continued royalties throughout the life of the copyrights.”
The Plaintiffs have also claimed that Trax knowingly defrauded the U.S. Copyright Office in order to secure copyrights over their music. They seek:
- “a Declaratory Judgment finding that ALL DEFENDANTS committed Fraud on the Copyright Office” with their Copyright registration applications for the sound recordings of ‘Can You Feel It,’ ‘Washing Machine,’ ‘Beyond the Clouds,’ and ‘Bring Down the Walls’;
- for the court to invalidate “the existing Copyright Registrations for those sound recordings [that are presently] held in [the] Defendants’ names”;
- to have the court find “ALL DEFENDANTS liable for direct infringement of Plaintiffs’ musical composition copyrights” in ‘Distant Planet’, ‘Never No More Lonely,’ and Donnie;
- a breach of contract award of no less than $1,000,000;
- a “breach of the implied warranty of good faith and fair dealing” award of no less than $1,000,000;
- an unjust enrichment award of no less than $1,000,000;
- for the court to impose a “constructive trust” award of no less than $1,000,000;
- for the court to render a judgment that all defendants’ conduct violates the Illinois Consumer Fraud Act, and to imposing damages (for this conduct) of no less than $1,000,000;
- actual damages, including profits made, or alternatively, statutory damages under 17 U.S.C. § 504(c);
- a jury trial, and;
- their costs and attorney’s fees, and “interest on its damages at the legal rate.”
MXDWN has reported that another artist, named Adonis M. Smith (also known as “Adonis”) has alleged that he was cheated by Trax Records, stating on Facebook that Trax Records has “not paid me one penny in 34 years . . .  does not own any rights to my music . . . [and to] tell all distributors to do not sell this record or any other of my songs from this horrible label.”
The Plaintiffs also allege that the label “exploited the artists’ other musical works” without permission, and have been doing so for over the past four decades, including releasing unauthorized vinyl records and failing to turn over royalty payments. The complaint also mentions Adonis, describing his plight as one of many musicians who have allegedly not been given their royalties from Trax Records.
Trax Records is believed to be largely responsible for the growth and development of the “House” genre of music.
The case name is Heard et al v. Trax Records Inc. et al, and was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division on June 23, 2020. The case number is 1:20-cv-03678. You can check out the complaint here, courtesy of Pitchfork News.