Two years ago, Trax Records discovered they were being sued by Larry Heard and Robert Owens over claims the label had never paid out royalties from releases dating back to the mid-1980s. It was a long running case – but since Sharon Johnson Coleman ruled in court back last summer, things have gone quiet.
Until yesterday. Robert S Meloni, representing Larry Heard and Robert Owens, confirmed that the two men had emerged victorious in their action against the label. As an investigation by Meloni – who has an impressive history, to say the least – discovered, Trax simply don’t have the money which would have been required to settle the case.
The result is that the publishing and master recording rights to an as yet undisclosed list of early recordings signed to Trax have now been handed back to Heard and Owens. And although the deal means no financial compensation for the two men, it gives them something which many of their fellow originators have nearly always been deprived of – control over their own work.
We’ll be our usual forthright selves here – Ears To The House is delighted with the news. Not just because of what it could mean for other artists – more on that shortly – but also because of the way Trax Records behaved during the case. Firstly, they tried to have the whole thing thrown out and subsequently lost.
They then went ahead and re-released several early Trax releases, including the ones involved in the dispute, at the beginning of the year – a sign of bad faith. Indeed, their entire decorum throughout this whole case has been belligerent and lacking in any self-awareness – even recently thinking it was their place to comment on a legal action Kanye West was facing.
And now look at what we see. Trax have had to roll over – handing over the rights to several early releases in order to make this go away. Which begs the question – what happens if other artists come along and demand their masters back? Jesse Saunders – who did actually release music on Trax back in the 1980s – references such a possibility on Facebook…
Let’s face facts – this is not a label short of enemies. Few who released music with them in the 1980s have a good word to say about them. Even Frankie Knuckles, for example, referred to them as “barnacles” in an interview some years ago. And Ears To The House has noticed some of those early artists are staying decidedly quiet at the moment.
We’re almost certainly not at the day when those mostly young and mostly black artists who released the first house tracks will all get their master recording rights back. But we suspect something has changed in the atmosphere with this settlement – and it’s going to be very interesting what happens when a similar matter inevitably rises elsewhere…