updated 07:40 pm EDT, Fri August 12, 2011
Dutch label may actually be at fault
Former rap artist Korvel Sutton has filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in California against Apple's iTunes service, charging that they are selling copyrighted tracks from his former group Pretty Boy Gangsters in other compilations without permission. Apple has already responded that license to sell the recordings, which were made in the early 1990s, came from a Dutch record label -- which has been in trouble before for distributing songs illegally.
In the complaint, Korvel -- who is representing himself and the other members of the band -- says he has received no compensation or royalties and did not grant permission for the tracks to be distributed in 23 countries and territories via the iTunes Store. According to the report on TorrentFreak, he is asking only for the money that would normally be due him for the sale of the recordings to be paid.
During rap's heyday in the early 90's, Pretty Boy Gangsters' song "K the Buster" from its album Rollin' Like a Star was often found on compilation albums next to better-known bands such as 2 Live Crew. A copy of the cassette version of the album was entered with the complaint as evidence of Sutton's previous work. Sutton claims that songs from the album are on at least 10 compilation albums it is selling, such as 2 Live Crew & Posse, West Coast Posse 1 and Elektro Hip Hop Party Volume 3.
The albums referred to in the complaint are also sold by other music outlets and have appeared as physical CDs obtainable through retail and online outlets such as Amazon.com. Why Sutton is singling out iTunes wasn't made clear in the complaint, and it is not known if Sutton is also pursuing other outlets separately.
Apple has responded to the complaint, saying the compilations were provided by Rams Horn Record, a Dutch label, and that they are responsible for licensing the tracks, not Apple itself. Rams Horn was sued successfully by Eminem in 2004 for distributing his music without permission.
Although Apple may well have legal cover for selling compilations they thought were legitimate, they might still be found liable for royalties if the court decides that Apple should have known that Rams Head didn't have the proper permissions. There has been a long history of record labels -- small and major -- illegally putting songs on compilation albums without proper permissions. As the report notes, a group of artists in Canada won a major settlement ($50 million) against the Big Four labels (Warner Music, Sony BMG, EMI and Universal) over unauthorized use of their music on compilation albums.
Eminem also won a lawsuit against Apple and Universal Music regarding royalty rates paid by Universal last September. The lawsuit, which was mainly a dispute between the rapper and his label, only briefly disrupted Eminem's relationship with Apple. [via TorrentFreak]