Chuck D Sues Publishing Company Reach Music for Withholding Royalties

Jason Kempin/Getty Images for Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation
Chuck D performs on stage during "Midnight At The Oasis" Annual Art For Life Benefit hosted by Russell Simmons' Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation at Fairview Farms on July 15, 2017 in Water Mill, New York. 

Public Enemy rapper alleges "unconscionable contracts, hidden transactions, false and fraudulent copyright registrations and false incomplete accountings."

Chuck D sued his publishing company for allegedly cheating him out of hundreds of thousands of dollars in royalties, according to documents recent filing in California Superior Court.

The complaint, filed on behalf of the Public Enemy rapper (whose real name is Carlton Ridenhour) and Bring the Noize Music, Inc., states that Reach Music Publishing and its president Michael Closter intentionally cheated the rapper out of composition copyrights, including works he created as part of Public Enemy. The complaint notes that Ridenhour received composition rights to the Public Enemy catalog back from Def Jam as part of the group’s termination with the label in 1998.   

“[Closter] created a complex master plan that involved, and still involves, unconscionable contracts, hidden transactions, false and fraudulent copyright registrations, and false incomplete accountings,” the complaint said. “Defendants thereby deprived Ridenhour of the fruits of his artistic endeavors and caused him damages in excess of One Million Dollars, including the loss of a substantial portion of his music publishing catalog.”

Ridenhour is seeking $1 million in damages, full ownership of his composition copyrights, an order for defendants to furnish accurate accounting documents and pay any money previously withheld and additional exemplary damages.

“Chuck seems to be unaware of the statements attributed to him against me and Reach in the lawsuit," Reach president Michael Closter tells Billboard. "For example, last week, on July 31st 2019, Chuck texted me multiple times and said, 'You’re a good guy Mike, and have been one personally and business ... Whatever the fracas was I’m sure this could be resolved quieter.'"

According to the complaint, in 2001, Closter promised to handle the task of administering Ridenhour’s music copyrights through the formation of an independent publishing company dubbed Bring the Noize. But Ridenhour alleges that a contract he signed in October that year gave Closter and Reach Music a 100% interest in Ridenhour’s share of those copyrights through Terrordome, a separate independent publishing entity established by Closter.

"Without any right to do so, Closter, Reach Music and Reach Global have kept for themselves all, or a substantially all, of the money generated by the exploitation of assets owned, or purported to be owned, by [Bring the Noize]," the complaint alleges.

Ridenhour also accused Closter and Reach Music of hiring producers to create “re-records” of Public Enemy songs, from the early Def Jam years up to “Harder Than You Think,” a single from the 2007 album How You Sell Soul to a Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul? The rapper alleged they exploited the re-records as official Chuck D/Public Enemy releases and made “many hundreds of thousands of dollars." It also claims Closter’s later appointment of BMG Rights Management as administrator of all compositions owned by Reach Music was never cleared with Ridenhour or his representatives, nor have they received any payments since the deal was signed. “[This] is and was another way for Closter and Reach Music to hide Ridenhour related transactions and generate money without accounting to Ridenhour for any of it,” the suit said. 

Closter disagrees with the events described in the filing. "Chuck D was a 41-year-old man, and I was 32-years-old, we signed a publishing agreement, which granted Reach a minority ownership interest and administration rights to Chuck’s share of his music copyrights," Closter said. "At the time, Chuck had both a manager and an attorney review the documents, and we signed the agreements at his manager’s house in Los Angeles. Since that time, Chuck has never once expressed disappointment or frustration with me, Reach, our business dealings or with our publishing agreement.

“Now, almost 20 years later, with a new management team in place, his team seeks to ‘break’ the agreement and our relationship; not by having any professional business discussions, but instead by creating a false narrative, together with a legal filing that I believe is nothing but a fabricated ploy to try to intimidate me with the ultimate goal of getting back his full ownership rights ... When the press has long moved on to other gossip and stories, Chuck and his team will be stuck in the legal quagmire of their own doing, and they will be held legally responsible for the consequences of their actions."

Editor's Note: This article was updated with a statement from Reach Music Publishing president Michael Closter.


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