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Kanye West Sues Universal, EMI Over His Record and Publishing Contracts

Kanye West
Brent N Clarke/Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock

In a free-form rant posted online back in October, Kanye West said he’d tried to purchase his publishing catalog from Sony/ATV Music and they declined. “I have the money to buy [back] my publishing,” West says in the video. “And they told me that I couldn’t buy my publishing…. It’s like the control.” While the terms of his contract are not public, music publishing deals typically do not allow artists to simply buy back their publishing whenever they want.

However, on Friday West tried another course of action by filing a pair of lawsuits in an attempt to extract himself from his publishing and label deals (the news was first reported by The Hollywood Reporter). One is against EMI Music Publishing, with whom he signed in 2003 and which is now owned by Sony/ATV, and the other is against the Universal Music Group companies Roc-a-Fella Records (the formerly Jay-Z-owned record label that released his early albums), Def Jam Records and UMG’s merchandising arm, Bravado. The move seems to be an attempt to acquire the rights to his music, something he also alluded to in the October video, obliquely referencing Prince’s strenuous efforts over the years to gain control of his catalog.

While some reports said that West is suing Jay-Z, a rep for West noted to XXL that Jay sold his interest in Roc-a-Fella in 2004. “The media reports are wrong,” says the rep. “Kanye West did not sue Jay-Z.  Mr. West sued a company that Jay-Z once owned a piece of, Roc-A-Fella Records.  Jay-Z sold his interest in that company many years ago. There is no fight between Kanye West and Jay-Z.”

The lawsuits, filed on Friday in Los Angeles Superior Court, are described as “almost entirely redacted” but the following sentence is clear: “There now exists a dispute between Plaintiffs and Defendant EMI regarding the parties’ rights and obligations to one another under the EMI Contract and Extensions,” and a similar statement is applied to his label agreements.

West seeks declaratory relief and alleges unjust enrichment on the part of the companies he is suing. Reps for West and the companies did not immediately respond to Variety’s requests for comment.