Dr. Dre Scores Legal Victory Over Death Row

Published by: museicdood on 21st Apr 2011 | View all blogs by museicdood
Dre.jpg

Dr. Dre Scores Legal Victory Over Death Row

Score one for the musicians.   Iconic rapper Dr. Dre has won his lawsuit against WIDE awake Death Row Records over the label's unauthorized reissue of his classic album, “The Chronic.”  The label also released a greatest hits collection of Dre's work, as well as selling digital downloads of his songs.  The decision Dre won this week ends years-long fight between the two parties, and is a clear victory for musicians against the music industry.

Dr. Dre, whose real name is Andre Young, co-founded Death Row Records with Marion “Suge” Knight in 1991.  The label took off on the popularity of N.W.A., as well as the the solo works of its members, including Dre and Snoop Dogg.  In 1996, Dre decided to leave Death Row and join Interscope, which distributed Death Row's releases.  In order to buy his freedom from the label, Dre was forced to give up his ownership interest in Death Row, and all the music he recorded on the label.

Here's where it gets interesting.   When Dre signed away his rights to his music, he had his lawyers throw in a clause that stated that his music could not be distributed in any other way “except in the manners heretofore distributed.”  Brilliant.  In essence, this means that Death Row's release of a greatest hits collection, and digital sales of Dre's music, violated the terms of the deal.  In the years following Dre's departure from Death Row, it has experienced financial problems, nearly folding before emerging under new corporate ownership, and with WIDEawake added to its name.

The issue of musicians' artistic control and profit participation has been a hard-fought arena for over ten years.  Artists like Pink Floyd have sued labels for distributing their works as digital singles, insisting that the work was created to exist as an album, not as digital singles from sources like iTunes.  Other artists have successfully fought to earn higher royalty rates from label for digital sales of their music.

In Dre's case, the case was not exactly clear-cut.  Most of the agreements between Dre and Death Row executives were oral, making it difficult to decipher what was said between fifteen and twenty years ago.  Several months ago, several of Dre's claims in the matter were dismissed.  These included trademark infringement over the release of “The Chronic”, false endorsement, and the publicity rights violation.  Dre's main claim, that Death Row's activity constituted a breach of contract, survived.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Christina Snyder upheld Dre's claim, fining that the agreement not to distribute Dre's songs “except in the manners heretofore distributed” clearly prohibited Death Row from re-issuing the material in a new platform, including digital sales.  The case now becomes a question of how much money is owed Dre for the contract breach.  Judge Snyder concurred in her findings that Dre was forced to accept a lower royalty rate on the reissue than he would have accepted under different circumstances, but clearly stated that Dre's award in the case would be limited to “actual damages.”   The amount Dre ends up getting, in all likelihood, will be a decision left up to a jury.

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