Why Rick James' Estate Is Being Sued

Rick James' estate faces a federal lawsuit from three musicians who claim they are owed a large sum of money. Radaronline.com obtained court documents showing that Leroy O'Neil Jackson Jr, James Calloway, and Aaron "Sonny" T. Davenport's estate administrator are suing Universal Music and Ty James, the executor of James' estate. Defendants are accused of breaching contract and infringement of copyright. The lawsuit against Jackson, Calloway, and Davenport claims that the trio created three demos at Blank Tapes Studios in 1979, where they wrote and recorded the song "Big Time." That night, James and the Motown execs met up with the trio, where they played him the demo. According to the songwriters, James "expressed he was impressed with the song and said it would be perfect for his upcoming fourth album to be released with the Gordy and Motown Record label. Mr. James asked Mr. Adams to help them work out the details to ensure that "Big Time" was on Mr. James' album titled Garden of Love."James arranged a unique deal with the songwriters under which he would receive 100% of the publishing royalties and rights for the first five years. After this period, the rights would revert to the trio.

The song was originally released in 1980, and the songwriters were listed as composers. Through their legal action, the trio received royalties from the song in 1984 by suing Motown records and James' production company. As a result of the settlement, the songwriters claim they received about $4,000 after legal fees, claims the suit. Despite this, the musicians claimed the record label failed to pay them adequately in the years that followed. "Since in or around 1990, 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," the suit explained. "Finally, in or around 2020, Plaintiffs engaged attorney Charles Matlock from Chicago, Illinois, to assist them with the collection of unpaid mechanical writers' royalties."

The songwriters say the song was registered with the U.S. Copyright Office in 2020. Since then, they allege that James' estate has released a documentary and soundtrack featuring their music."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," the suit reads via RadarOnline. James' estate is being sued for unspecified damages and a temporary injunction against continuing to profit from their work.