The members of rap provocateurs 2 Live Crew are facing a courtroom fight from a small record label over efforts to win back control of their catalog, in the latest music industry battle over copyright law’s so-called termination right.
In a complaint filed Thursday, Lil Joe Records Inc. asked a Florida federal court to rule that 2 Live Crew is not allowed to use the termination right — a provision that allows creators to regain ownership of their works decades after they sold them.
2 Live Crew is just the latest musical act to become embroiled in a termination battle. Both Cher and KC and The Sunshine Band have recently kicked off such lawsuits, and major record labels are facing class actions from huge groups of artists who want to recapture their masters.
In Thursday’s lawsuit, Lil Joe said it purchased 2 Live Crew’s catalog when the group’s previous label, Luke Records Inc., went bankrupt in 1995. The deal included both publishing rights and masters, as well as the trademarks to the group’s name.
The current dispute kicked off in November 2020, when members of the band notified Lil Joe that they planned to invoke the termination provision and take back control of their music. The notice was filed by surviving members Luther Campbell and Mark Ross, as well as the heirs of late member Christopher Wong Won.
In basic terms, Lil Joe’s lawsuit is asking a federal judge to rule that 2 Live Crew is ineligible to use the termination provision. Among other arguments, the label claims the group failed to file proper notices, and that aspects of bankruptcy law trump the termination right.
Most notably, Lil Joe plans to argue that 2 Live Crew’s music was created as a so-called work for hire on behalf of their record label – meaning the group never owned any rights to their music in the first place. That’s an argument that could come into play in future termination battles between artists and labels.
2 Live Crew’s termination notice was sent to Lil Joe by attorney Scott Burroughs of the firm Doniger / Burroughs, who did not immediately return a request for comment on Friday morning.