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Kanye West attempts to ensure his EMI dispute stays in California

By | Published on Tuesday 25 June 2019

Kanye West

Kanye West has asked a New York court to dismiss a countersuit filed there by EMI Music Publishing back in March as part of an ongoing dispute between the rapper and the Sony/ATV-owned music publishing business.

West is trying to get out of his ongoing contractual commitments to EMI. He sued first in January in the Californian courts. His choice of court was important, because key to his case is a rule under Californian state law that says that no one can be forced into a service contract that lasts longer than seven years. West started working with EMI in 2003.

It’s long been debated in the US music industry as to whether that so called seven year rule in California applies to record and publishing contracts, which traditionally oblige artists and songwriters to deliver a certain number of records or songs, and are therefore linked to output rather than time. Labels and publishers usually argue that their contracts are rights contracts not service contracts, so the seven year limitation does not apply.

However, before getting too deep into that debate, EMI’s main argument when it counter-sued in March is that its deal with West falls under the laws of New York state, where the seven year rule does not apply. In its legal filing, EMI went to great lengths to state how West had been well advised when signing his contract with the music publisher in 2003, and that lawyers would have made him aware that any future disputes must be heard in New York.

That hasn’t stopped West trying to force his legal battle with EMI back to California. His latest legal filing argues that the New York case should be dismissed and the music publisher should have to refile its action in the state where the dispute began. By going legal on the other side of the country, West added, EMI was simply trying to “escape” the strict employment laws of California.

Throughout the dispute, West has made bold statements about his EMI deal, which he argues amounts to “servitude”. Last week’s legal filing had similarly bold language.

According to Law360, it stated: “Even if Mr West’s publishing contracts with EMI were not unfair (they are), even if their terms valued Mr West’s contributions in line with the enormous global success he has achieved (they do not), and even if EMI had not underpaid Mr West what they owe him (they have), he would be entitled to his freedom”.

In between the legal filings, both parties have been very busy behind the scenes trying to negotiate a settlement. And it looked like good progress was being made, particularly when they both requested last month that their respective litigation be further paused so that those talks could continue.

Last week EMI said that, although it may as yet seek a summary judgement in its New York case, at the same time settlement negotiations are ongoing and “the parties have continued to make progress”.