James Mtume Sues Sony Music to Regain Rights to 'Juicy Fruit' & More Music

James Mtume
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James Mtume attends Volkswagen V.I.P. Hosts 'Idlewild' Screening Arrivals and After Party at Loews Kips Bay and Providence N.Y.C. on Aug. 23, 2006.

The hit single spent 8 weeks at No. 1 on Billboard's R&B chart in 1983 and served as the base sample for The Notorious B.I.G.'s breakout hit "Juicy."

Jazz and funk musician James Mtume is suing Sony Music over music he recorded in the 1970s and 1980s, looking to reclaim the rights for his hit single "Juicy Fruit" and two albums. 

"Juicy Fruit," performed by the group called Mtume, spent 8 weeks at No. 1 on Billboard's R&B chart in 1983 and served as the base sample for The Notorious B.I.G.'s 1994 breakout hit "Juicy." The albums included in the suit are 1978's Kiss the World Goodbye and 1980's In Search of the Rainbow Seekers

Mtume's suit follows action by members of the Village People, Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Huey Lewis and the News and others who have used Section 203 of the U.S. Copyright Act to reclaim rights to their music after 35 years, as of Jan. 1, 1978. 

Mtume is also demanding an accounting on royalties for his copyright interests on the "Juicy" single and the two albums. As well, he is seeking a declaration that the recordings were not created under a work-for-hire agreement and that he is the sole copyright owner of the recordings -- points Sony Music has contested. 

According to Mtume's suit, it took Sony Music nearly two years to respond to a termination notice he sent the label in July 2015, which sought to reclaim his ownership of recordings created between 1978 and early 1983, pursuant to an agreement dated June 24, 1977, between Zembu Productions Inc. and Mtume. The music was first released on Epic Records before Zembu Productions assigned its agreement to CBS Records in 1979 ahead of releasing In Search of the Rainbow Seekers the next year. In 1987, CBS was acquired by Sony Music Entertainment, transferring Mtume's rights with it. 

Mtume also notes he reached a separate agreement with CBS in October 1983 that has nothing to do with the rights granted under the 1977 agreement.

Sony Music declined to comment. 

When Sony Music did respond to Mtume's termination notice on July 21, 2017, it was more than two weeks past the first effective termination date. In the label's letters, which were included as exhibits with the complaint, Sony Music argued Mtume's termination notice was ineffective because the recordings were works made for hire and his notice only related to the albums as whole entities and not their individual tracks. The company also claimed there may be additional potential authors of the songs whose permission would be needed for termination and that the recordings are not subject to termination under Section 203 because they were created pursuant to a grant contained in a 1977 agreement.  

Mtume disputes those assertions, calling them "frivolous," and is seeking a declaration that the recordings are terminable, along with accounting of all post-termination income and attorney's fees and costs.