TaP Music supports lawsuit against Trax Records brought by artists Larry Heard & Robert Owens, seeking ‘not less than’ $1m in damages

TaP Music Publishing has announced that it is co-funding legal action against Trax Records alongside iconic house music artists Larry Heard and Robert Owens.

Larry Heard (aka Mr Fingers) is a DJ,  musician and producer and a key figure from the 1980s Chicago house scene. Owens is a composer,  artist, DJ, record producer, and musician, best known for his collaboration with Larry Heard and Ron Wilson in the Chicago-based house group Fingers Inc.

The defendants named in the filing are Trax Records, Inc. and Precision/Trax Records in addition to Rachael Sherman, née Rachael Cain (pka Screamin’ Rachael) and Cain Music.

According to the filing, the “plaintiffs are informed and believe, and based thereon allege, that Cain is an owner and officer” of Trax.

The copyright infringement suit was filed on Wednesday (June 23) to the United States District court for the Northern District of Illinois.

The claim alleges to highlight exploitation of the artists and their works, including unpaid royalties, and demands damages of $150,000 for each work that is alleged to have been infringed, but “not less than” $1 million in total.

The filing claims that “during the decades since Defendants first began exploiting musical works created by Larry Heard and/or Robert Owens, neither Heard nor Owens was properly compensated for the great value of each’s musical labors”.

“Instead,” continues the filing, “defendants enriched themselves and brazenly exploited those musical works for their sole benefit, while encouraging and enabling others to do the same”.

The filing, obtained by MBW and which you can read in full here, also claims: “Talented, but unrepresented, musicians hungry for their first break were lulled into a business relationship with an unscrupulous record company that made promises it never intended to keep and masqueraded as paternalistic benefactors for those artists – like a wolf in sheep’s clothing”.

“We are simply seeking justice and fairness.”

Larry Heard

Larry Heard said: “After doing several releases independently, it was so disappointing that my earliest ventures into the music business was with a label in the community that turned out to be dishonest, like with many other artists that we hear about all too often.

“We are simply seeking justice and fairness. Maybe, our efforts will shed light on the many predatory practices that have been in place for a long time in this industry.”

“Hopefully this lawsuit will end Trax’s reign of non-payment. I’m grateful to TaP for their support in bringing this long overdue claim.”

Robert Owens

Robert Owens, added: “Trax’s treatment of those artists on its label is notorious to those in the electronic world. Many of my friends and fellow artists have been similarly treated.

“Hopefully this lawsuit will end Trax’s reign of non-payment. I’m grateful to TaP for their support in bringing this long overdue claim.”

Rene Gelston, Larry Heard’s manager, since 1989: “I discovered that Larry had found himself in a situation with Trax Records where his lack of legal representation on his first recordings allowed his artistry to be ruthlessly exploited. This story is true of Robert and lots of other artists signed to Trax. We are very happy to have found such a supportive publisher in TaP, to help us bring this claim to life”

“We are delighted to be able to support their claim against Trax Records who have behaved abominably over the years to many artists signed to them.”

Ben Mawson, TaP Music

Ben Mawson, TaP Music, said: “Ed (Millett) and I have always been passionate about electronic music and signing two pioneers of house music, Larry and Robert, to TaP Music Publishing, is a source of great pride to us.

“We are delighted to be able to support their claim against Trax Records who have behaved abominably over the years to many artists signed to them.

“We would ask any such affected artists to reach out to us and we will endeavour to support them however we can. Hopefully those in control at Trax now decide to do the right thing, after many years of shocking disregard for their artists”

Robert Meloni, Litagator at Meloni & McCaffrey, said: “During my 40 years of practicing law in the music business, it was not all that uncommon to see record labels failing to honor their agreements with artists, particularly African-American artists.

“Going as far back as Fats Waller, who practically gave away his rights to his iconic song Ain’t Misbehavin’ for a flat $500 just to stay out of alimony jail, through Little Richard, who was forced to sue his record label in 1984 for $112 million since he had not been paid any royalties since 1959, to Jimmy Hendrix and his infamous “1% contract” with PPX in 1965, all the way up to the legendary Chicago house music artists Larry Heard and Robert Owens and Trax Records – the subject of this lawsuit – African-American musicians have been especially victimized.

“Larry Heard and Robert Owens have filed this lawsuit to begin the process of righting the wrongs they suffered, our hope is that it may inspire other similarly situated African-Americans to stand up for their rights as well.”


MBW has been sent the following statement from Cain:

Rick Darke of Duane Morris LLP an attorney for Rachael Cain said she had been fighting for 15 years to get artists like Heard and Owen royalties, citing a long legal dispute with a Canadian investor, Casablanca Trax Inc.

Casablanca obtained the rights and licenses to music from artists like Heard, and later transferred the rights to another entity.

Though Cain has since prevailed on appeal, the parties responsible have not paid up, Darke said.

“Rachael Cain has been fighting for a long time to get these artists paid,” Darke continued. “She just hasn’t received the monies from the parties responsible in order to pay them.”

[Said Cain:] “Since the very beginning I have been championing House music, TRAX Records and our artists. As an artist myself I can totally understand and feel their frustration.

“Since 2002 TRAX Records has had no control over the TRAX classic catalogue which we intend to rectify. I would like them to know I have not been in control of the classics and have been fighting to get them paid.”Music Business Worldwide

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