Rick James’ estate has been hit with a lawsuit claiming that the late star failed to pay out proper royalties, according to documents obtained by Radar Online.
Leroy O’Neil Jackson Jr, James Calloway, and Aaron Sonny T. Davenport’s estate have jointly filed a lawsuit against the Buffalo, NY native, Ty James and Universal Music, accusing the defendants of copyright infringement and breach of contract. The lawsuit is demanding “a temporary injunction against James’ estate from continuing to profit off their work and for unspecified damages.”
Jackson, Calloway, and Davenport claim they recorded three demo tapes in 1979 at Black Tape Studios, with one being James’ hit “Big Time.” The suit recalls the men later meeting with James and an unspecified music executive to discuss “Big Time,” with James expressing his desire to include it on his album, Garden of Love.
Garden of Love was set to be released on Motown, so the parties had to work out a deal regarding royalties, how the songwriters would be paid, and ensuring that the song was a part of the LP before release.
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The filed suit states that an “unusual” deal was struck, with Rick receiving 100% of the track’s rights and publishing royalties for the song’s first five years in the market. At the end of the five years, it was agreed upon that the trio of songwriters would be granted royalties.
“Big Time” debuted in 1980 and included Jackson, Calloway, and Davenport as the track’s composers. However, in 1984, the men had to take legal action against Motown and Rick James to receive their agreed-upon royalties, ultimately receiving $4,000 each. In the years following the suit, the record company continued to disregard their contributions, failing to adequately compensate them for their work.
“Since in or around 1990,” the suit reads, “Plaintiffs have made efforts to engage legal counsel to assist them with the collection of unpaid mechanical writers’ royalties only to be turned away by attorneys unwilling to represent Plaintiffs on a contingency fee basis. Finally, in or around 2020, Plaintiffs engaged attorney Charles Matlock from Chicago, Illinois, to assist them with the collection of unpaid mechanical writers’ royalties.”
Most recently, Jackson, Calloway, and Davenport noted they registered with the U.S. Copyright Office in 2020 to obtain rights back to their song. Since then, the trio claims the Rick James estate has used “Big Time” in a released documentary and soundtrack.
“Despite requests from Plaintiffs to Defendants, Plaintiffs have never received a single accounting statement nor payment for mechanical royalties for ‘Big Time’ from Defendants. Defendants nevertheless continue to distribute and exploit the composition by releasing and distributing digital and physical phonorecords of Plaintiffs’ copyrighted work and are liable for intentional copyright infringement.”