Rap legend Andre Young, a.k.a. Dr.Dre, has emerged victorious from a federal lawsuit he filed over owed royalty payments in early 2010 against WIDEawake Death Row Entertainment LLC. U.S. District Judge Christina A Snyder in Los Angeles has ruled that the defendant breached Dre’s contract by selling his music online, without his permission and contrary to their 1996 agreement; Dre, thus, is entitled to 100% of all digital sales from his classic 1992 album, “The Chronic.”
The defendant, Canadian-based WIDEawake Entertainment Group, had purchased at auction Death Row’s assets after it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, reported the Los Angeles Times in January, 2009. Dre claimed that the company had breached the agreements by (1) failing to pay him royalties since 1996; (2) digitally distributing his album The Chronic without permission; and (3) and including his recordings in a compilation album entitled “Death Row’s Greatest Hits.”
In 1996, Dre and Death Row apparently had entered into a written agreement whereby he would relinquish his 50% ownership interest in the firm and assign all copyrights in his recordings. But those rights were assigned to the extent that the “master recordings shall only be distributed in the manners heretofore distributed” (i.e. not digital). In return, Death Row agreed to pay royalties to Dre from the sales of recordings he wrote, produced or on which he performed.
The defense asserted that, under California law, a contract claim based on a written agreement is subject to a four-year statute of limitations and therefore Dre’s suit was barred under Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 337(1). Defendants argued that, even if they had repeatedly breached the 1996 agreement within the last four years, the statute of limitations barred Dre’s action because it was not brought within four years of March 2000 – the first time Death Row distributed The Chronic on the Internet via digital download. The court, instead, agreed with arguments by Dre’s attorney, Howard King.
“For years, Death Row Records forgot about Dre when they continued to distribute his music digitally and combined his hits with weaker Death Row tracks in an attempt to elevate the stature of their other artists,” King said in a statement, “[and we] are gratified that the federal court has unambiguously declared that Death Row has no right to engage in such tactics, and must hold all proceeds from these illicit distributions in trust for our client” reported online music magazine Gigwise.