Veteran soul musician James Mtume has sued Sony Music to reclaim the rights for sound recordings he created between 1978 and 1983, including the hits “Juicy Fruit” and “Just Funnin’.” While most of the songs in question are from Mtume’s first two albums, “Juicy Fruit” was a sizable hit, reaching No. 1 on Billboard’s R&B chart for eight weeks in 1983 and peaking at No. 45 during a 12-week run on the Hot 100.
The suit is the latest in several wherein artists are using Section 203 of the U.S. Copyright Act, which allows authors to reclaim rights to their works after 35 years, with the clock starting at Jan. 1, 1978. Members of the Village People, the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Devo and others have filed similar claims.
Contacted by Variety, a rep for Sony Music said the company had no comment.
Mtume sent a termination notice in July of 2015 that was recorded in the copyright office in November of that year, with termination dates effective in 2017 and 2018. His suit claims that Sony “waited nearly two years” before responding on July 21, 2017, more than two weeks after the first effective termination date.
Sony maintained that Mtume’s 2015 termination notice is ineffective for several reasons, including that the recordings are works made for hire; that the recordings at issue are not subject to termination pursuant to Section 203 because they were created pursuant to a grant contained in a 1977 agreement; and there may be additional potential authors other than Mtume whose grants were not noticed for termination.
Mtume disputed those assertions, which his lawsuit characterizes as frivolous, and also requests the court grant that the recordings are terminable, that the termination notice is valid, and an accounting of all post-termination income along with his attorneys’ fees and costs.
Mtume’s original contract was signed in 1977 with Zembu Productions, which two years later assigned it to CBS Records; in 1987, CBS was acquired by Sony Music Entertainment. Mtume reached a separate agreement with CBS in October of 1983.