In a 27-page federal copyright infringement lawsuit filed in Illinois on June 23, the two seminal producers allege that the label became rich off of the work by Heard, Owens and others, while not properly compensating the artists.
“During the decades since Defendants first began exploiting musical works created by Larry Heard and/or Robert Owens, neither Heard nor Owens was properly compensated for the great value of each’s musical labors. Instead, Defendants enriched themselves and brazenly exploited those musical works for their sole benefit, while encouraging and enabling others to do the same,” the complain reads.
The complaint accuses the legendary house label of “taking advantage of unsophisticated but creative house music artists and songwriters by having them sign away their copyrights to their musical works for paltry amounts of money up front and promises of continued royalties throughout the life of the copyright,” also calling Trax, “a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
They are suing for damages that they expect to exceed $1 million.
The suit also acknowledges other artists who have publicly stated Trax has not paid them. It cites DJ Pierre, who claimed he never received any royalties from the label, while Jamie Principe told 5Mag in 2011 he never had a contract with the label. Adonis recently spoke out against the label and a crowd funding campaign helped to raise over £10,000 to pay back lost royalties.
In a statement, Heard said: “After doing several releases independently, it was so disappointing that my earliest ventures into the music business was with a label in the community that turned out to be dishonest, like with many other artists that we hear about all too often. We are simply seeking justice and fairness. Maybe our efforts will shed light on the many predatory practices that have been in place for a long time in this industry.”
Larry Sherman founded Trax in 1984, who died earlier this year. Rachel Cain took over the label in 2006 and through a lawyer, via The Guardian, says she has been fighting to get royalties paid to artists for 15 years, but there is an ongoing dispute with a Canadian investor Casablanca Trax. “Since 2002 Trax Records has had no control over the Trax classic catalogue which we intend to rectify. I would like them to know I have not been in control of the classics and have been fighting to get them paid,” says Cain.
British management company and publisher Tap Music is co-funding the lawsuit. “We would ask any such affected artists to reach out to us and we will endeavor to support them however we can. Hopefully those in control at Trax now decide to do the right thing, after many years of shocking disregard for their artists.”