Kanye West cannot retire. He will, until the end of time, create music and tweet inflammatory remarks. The former, at least, is included in his current contract with song publisher EMI, which forbids him from retiring. West is now seeking to extricate himself from this contract in a lawsuit filed in late January against EMI at Los Angeles Superior Court, as per THR.
The divisive rapper signed his “lopsided” contract with the publisher in 2003, when he was recording College Dropout, according to court papers. The contract itself reads (emphasis ours):
You (Mr. West) hereby represent and warrant that to [EMI] that You will, throughout the Term as extended by this Modification, remain actively involved in writing, recording and producing Compositions and Major Label Albums, as Your principle occupation. 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. (The preceding representation shall not be deemed to prevent You from taking a vacation of limited duration.)
In short, other than occasional vacations, West must continue making music in perpetuity.
If this has your labor contract Spidey sense a-tingling, well, you’re not alone. The lawsuit filed by West’s lawyers cites California Labor Code section 2855, which stipulates that personal service contracts may not last longer than seven years. Indeed, Olivia de Havilland (Melanie from Gone with the Wind) was freed from her contract with Warner Bros. thanks to section 2855.
Things aren’t quite that cut-and-dried in this case, though. First off, EMI’s legal team added a clause that notes his contract is not for his “personal services,” but for West to “deliver” the publisher the ownership of his songs, seemingly trying to dodge section 2855. Kanye’s attorneys call this clause “unenforceable” in light of de Havilland’s previous case.
Furthermore, the rapper’s legal team argues that since he’s been working for EMI for 15 years (over twice what is allowed under section 2855), the publisher should not be able to reap the financial benefits from any compositions he made after October 2010, when the seven years ended and rendered the contract null. “EMI has unjustly earned millions of dollars by tethering Mr. West’s songwriting efforts for an unlawful term. He is entitled to his freedom,” the court papers state.
That means the judge must decide if this is a matter of West’s employment or his intellectual property. The former would make the case easier for West to win, while the latter favors EMI. Copyright law falls under federal jurisdiction, and if this becomes primarily a matter of copyright termination, that would spell disaster for the Life of Pablo artist. Authors can only reclaim copyrights over their work 35 years after the date of publication. By that time, Kim and Kanye’s kids will likely have their own reality shows and respective musical careers.
EMI’s attorneys are quite aware that making this case about intellectual property would put them at an advantage. They filed a notice of removal on Friday (March 1) reading, “The rights to, ownership interest in, and exploitation of copyrightable musical compositions are precisely the subject matter of the Copyright Act.”
While we’re certainly not fans of Kanye’s offensive political antics, the contract signed by a then-emerging artist seems designed to exploit both talent and legal loopholes.
As the Grammy Award winner’s lawyers wrote, “EMI would have had no interest in ensuring that Mr. West continued to write, record, and produce songs, and continue to ‘actively’ pursue his music career, unless it was party to a contract with Mr. West that required him to render personal songwriting, recording and producing services.”