Kanye West’s bid to free himself from his record and publishing deals took another turn Thursday when EMI Music Publishing sued him for breach of contract. The news was first reported by The Hollywood Reporter.
West’s attempts to get out of those deals, while initially seeming like one of his off-the-cuff rants, soon gained more solid footing as the artist and his attorneys’ claim that his contract violates California’s statute limiting personal services contracts to no more than seven years. In response, EMI moved West’s lawsuit to federal court , arguing that his claims are blocked by copyright law. The company also denied West’s claim that he is providing personal services, although his contract, signed before he attained mainstream success, arguably prevents him from retiring during the contract’s term.
EMI’s new complaint argues that West’s publishing deals include a clause providing exclusive jurisdiction in New York, and that any challenges are subject to New York law. EMI claims that the artist’s lawyers have made a “flagrant attempt to forum shop his way around” those clauses and that his contracts “remain in full force and effect in their entirety.”
THR notes that West may argue that parties “can’t contract around California’s attempt to curtail contractual servitude,” and that the publisher is attempting to block his First Amendment rights to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
Contacted by Variety, a rep for EMI parent company Sony/ATV had no comment.
While West’s contract does contain wording that prohibits him from retiring — “At no time during the Term will you seek to retire as a songwriter, recording artist or producer or take any extended hiatus during which you are not actively pursuing Your musical career in the same basic manner as You have pursued such career to date” — a music-publishing source tells Variety that such wording is common in publishing contracts, particularly for unproven songwriters. “The key phrase is ‘at no time during the term,’” the source says, “which is basically to say ‘We are about to give you a big advance, it’s not the time for you to decide to become a painter next week.’ He can do whatever he wants after the duration of the term.”
However, West’s contract with EMI has been renewed several times, as noted in the lawsuit. His bid to be released from his publishing and recording deals revolves around a California law that limits personal-service contracts to no more than seven years. West claims that he’s been “laboring” for EMI since he first signed with the publisher in 2003.
He also aims to prove that EMI was unfairly enriched by the West compositions it has published since October of 2010, and is seeking for the judge to declare that he is now the owner of those works. That claim means EMI can take the case from state to federal court, and it did so on Friday. While federal law allows copyright reversion, the option doesn’t come up until 35 years after a work is published — and chances are West is hoping to gain ownership of the works in question a lot sooner than that.