On Monday, Mobb Deep MC Prodigy filed a lawsuit against Universal Music Publishing Group alleging that the company has been collecting licensing and royalty fees for his solo work on third party albums for nearly two decades without his permission. The lawsuit, brought in federal district court in New York, is seeking, at minimum, thousands of dollars in compensation and damages for copyright infringement, unjust enrichment, conversion, declaratory judgment and relief. But as always with publishing deals, things get confusing very quickly, so let's break this suit down.
According to the complaint, in Feb. 1995, Havoc and Prodigy signed a publishing deal with BMG Music Publishing as Mobb Deep ahead of the release of their influential sophomore album The Infamous, in which BMG would collect licensing and royalties for the group and take 50 percent of the earnings. In Dec. 1998, Prodigy, Havoc and BMG agreed to an amendment to the original contract that would provide for solo albums from either of the artists outside of Mobb Deep. Prodigy launched his solo career in 2000 with H.N.I.C., which came out on Relativity Records, the first of his four solo LPs to date.
The sticking point in Prodigy's lawsuit against UMPG -- which acquired BMG Music Publishing in 2007 in a deal worth $2.05 billion -- is in what constitutes Prodigy's solo work. While UMPG collected and disbursed fees for all of Prodigy's music outside of Mobb Deep, the MC contends that the specific language of the amendment only covered his solo albums, and does not include his work as a featured artist on other musicians' projects or his four collaborative albums, two with producer The Alchemist, one with Big Twins and Un Pacino and one with Boogz Boogetz, as well as a 2014 EP with Alchemist.
The immediate issue, stated in the complaint and confirmed by Prodigy's lawyer Corey Boddie, contends that Prodigy's attorneys contacted UMPG in Oct. 2014 about the discrepancy, after which the company stopped releasing any money to the MC for either his solo work or his Mobb Deep catalog. That year-long cease in payments is where the headline-grabbing number of $57,489.61 -- reported by TMZ and other news outlets yesterday -- came from, but that's only one part of the complaint.
"We are suing for a minimum of $57,000," Boddie tells Billboard, adding that they are seeking accounting records from UMPG before determining a final amount for damages. "But it is much, much more and could possibly be in the millions."
UMPG declined to comment when contacted for this story.
Though Prodigy is perplexed at how the lawsuit was made public in the first place, he thinks the issue can serve as a teaching tool for younger artists who don't have his two decades of experience in the music business. "My advice to other artists is definitely to always run a check and run audits on different companies," he told Billboard in a phone conversation yesterday. "It's good for up and coming artists to see shit like this, and I guess now that it got out it's good for them to know what's going on and that this is a part of the business."