Rapper Dr. Dre has been feuding with Death Row Records since his former record label was bought out of bankruptcy last year. The new entity, WIDEawake Death Row Records, put out a new version of his iconic album "The Chronic," as well as a greatest hits collection, without his permission.
On Monday, a California district court tossed his claims that Death Row's release of "The Chronic Re-Lit" violated his rights of trademark and publicity. However, the judge allowed another claim -- that he hasn't been paid royalties since splitting from Death Row in 1996 -- to be heard.
Dr. Dre argued that Death Row suggested he endorsed the new albums, particularly in the way it placed his name and likeness on the cover. Death Row countered that it didn't substantially modify the substance of "The Chronic" in any way other than giving it sonic clarity and a slightly louder volume.
The nature of this dispute is informed by the casual way that Dr. Dre created "The Chronic" in the early 1990s. When he formed Death Row Records in 1991, he orally granted the label a non-exclusive licence to release sound recordings. The following year, he made another oral agreement to the same effect over "The Chronic" in exchange for an 18 percent royalty rate.
Then, in 1996, he left Death Row, disclaiming his ownership interest in both the company and the sound recordings in exchange for both the previous-agreed-upon royalty rate and a promise not to distribute any of his songs except "in the manners heretofore distributed."
In analyzing the case, California District Court Judge Christina Snyder applied the so-called "Monty Python" rule, after a 1976 case where a defendant extensively edited the TV comedy series in order to broadcast it on television. The question was whether the changes to Dr. Dre's album were more than "cosmetic."
Snyder ruled the alterations were "minor and inconsequential." She also pointed out that the image used on the cover jacket is the same photograph from the original album, instead of a more current photo, which may have gone further to imply some new endorsement.
Dr. Dre will have to settle for going after the new iteration of Death Row on the money he alleges is owed to him.
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