Music Producer Seeks Accounting of His Heavily Sampled Hits

MANHATTAN (CN) – Jazz-funk producer James Mtume sued Sony Music on Tuesday, demanding an accounting for several records he made for Epic Records in the 1970s and 1980s, including the heavily sampled club hit “Juicy Fruit.”

Performed by the group called Mtume, “Juicy Fruit” held No. 1 spot on Billboard’s R&B chart for eight weeks in 1983. It took a new life in the 1990s as the base of Notorious B.I.G.’s monumental and autobiographical track “Juicy” from his debut album “Ready to Die.”

Represented by Steven Lucks of Fishkin Lucks LLP, Mtume brought a federal complaint for an accounting of royalties and his copyright interests to the “Juicy Fruit” single and two full albums, “In Search of the Rainbow Seekers” and “Kiss The World Goodbye.”

Mtume’s suit also seeks a declaration that the recordings at issue were not created pursuant to a work-for-hire agreement and that he is the sole copyright owner of the sound recordings at issues.

According to the 11-page complaint, Sony Music took nearly two years to respond to a termination notice served by Mtume in July 2015. He says he filed the notice to reclaim his copyright interests in recordings that he created between 1978 and early 1983, pursuant to an agreement dated June 24, 1977, between Zembu Productions Inc. and Mtume.

According to correspondence included as exhibits with the complaint, Sony Music questioned the validity of July 2015 termination notice, claiming that the recordings were works made for hire and that his termination notice relating to the albums related only to the works as a whole and not their individual tracks.

Sony Music also claimed that the recordings at issue are not subject to termination pursuant to Section 203 of the U.S. Copyright Act because they were created pursuant to a grant contained in a 1977 agreement.

In August 1979, Zembu Productions assigned the 1977 Agreement to CBS Records.

Sony Music acquired CBS Records in 1983, becoming the successor-in-interest with respect to Mtume’s 1977 agreement and the copyright interests in recordings created under that agreement.

In 1983, CBS Records Inc. and Mtume entered into a new artist agreement that terminated the 1977 Agreement.

In an appearance on the syndicated radio show ‘The Breakfast Club,” Mtume reminisced on the ease of making the deal with producer Sean Combs (Puff Daddy/P. Diddy/Bad Boy Records) to use “Juicy Fruit” in the Notorious B.I.G. song: “One of the things I say about Puff, we sat down worked out a page and a half, you know, and that was it. You get a dollar, I get fifty cents, that was it … Best deal I ever cut.”

“It was the sample that put into the next generation. There’s been like seventy samples of that,” Mtume reckoned.

Wrigley’s Gum dropped a potential lawsuit against Mtume over “Juicy Fruit” after the songwriter candidly told the gum company during a deposition that song was a reference to oral sex, Mtume told the radio show.

In 2007, a jury decided that Sean Combs and Bad Boy Records had illegally used samples for the production of three songs on the “Ready to Die” album, including the title track, “Machine Gun Funk,” and “Gimme the Loot,” awarding Bridgeport Music and Westbound Records more than $730,000 in compensatory damages and $3.5 million in punitive damages.

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