MANHATTAN (CN) - Decades-old contracts will keep Run DMC's now-indigent lyricist in hot water over his lawsuit for royalties, a federal judge ruled.
David Reeves, who co-wrote some of the 1980s hip-hop outfit's best-known hits as Davy D, was homeless in 2006 while a new MTV show named after "Run's House" kept the songs commercially successful.
Rush Groove Music, the music publisher Reeves had signed with in 1988 and 1989, had not paid Reeves since 1990 when it went belly up.
Trying to pull himself from poverty in 2007, Reeves entered into a contract with Reach Music Publishing that transferred a portion of his copyright interest in the song "Run's House" for $55,000.
Reeves and Reach filed suit in 2009 against Protoons Inc. and Warner/Chappell Music, two entites that had acquired the rights to Run DMC's compositions from Rush Groove.
Protoons countersued for breach of contract and tortious interference, pointing to the songwriter agreements that Reeves had signed with Rush Groove, which included a promise not to sue.
Insisting that Protoons and Warner/Chappel could have mentioned the "covenant not to sue" before he filed the case, Reeves said that the music publishers' lawyer warned only that he had "signed away all his rights," promising to "bury" the lyricist in legal fees if he pursued litigation.
U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest found Monday the threat may prove prophetic.
"Reeves long ago sold all rights to the subject songs - including his entire copyright interest - in exchange for royalty payments," Forrest found. "In that agreement, Reeves acknowledged that the songs could be transferred to Protoons but that he would only ever seek royalty payments from Rush Groove; he also expressly relinquished any right to seek royalty payments from Protoons. The contractual language to which Reeves agreed is plain, standard, and valid."
A footnote to the 27-page opinion says Reeves can still sue Rush Groove's two principals, Russell Simmons and Lyor Cohen.
Forrest granted the publishers summary judgment against Reeves, and advanced allegations against Reach and its chief, Michael Closter, toward a trial.
"There is ample evidence from preceding events that Reach understood the Run-D.M.C. compositions were subject to a binding agreement between Protoons and the co-writers; but there is not enough evidence to show that Reach understood the agreements included a covenant not to sue," the opinion states.
Christine Lepera, an attorney for Protoons with the Los Angeles office of Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp, said in an email that the firm is "pleased" with the decision.
"We are confident that a jury will ultimately find in Protoons' favor on its tortious interference claims," Lepera added.
An attorney for Reeves did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The parties will return to court on Nov. 17 to set a trial date for jury to determine whether Reach tortiously interfered with the contract.