Twenty-eight years after its release, the late rapper 2Pac’s legendary track Dear Mama is the subject of a copyright infringement lawsuit.
Terence Thomas, aka Master Tee – who is credited as a producer on the track – has filed a lawsuit claiming that producer Tony D. Pizarro, label Interscope and its parent company Universal Music Group “conspired” to obscure Master Tee’s role in creating the track, depriving him of what he says are his rightful publishing royalties as a co-writer.
“A self-serving group, led by an upstart music producer, Tony D. Pizarro, conspired with executives at Interscope Records and Universal Music Group (UMG), misappropriated Master Tee’s publishing copyright and master recording copyright and assumed the identity of writer/publisher of Dear Mama’s music,” states Master Tee’s complaint, which was filed on November 18 with the US District Court for the Southern District of New York.
The full complaint, obtained by MBW, can be read here.
Released in 1995, Dear Mama was the lead single off of Me Against The World, the third studio album by rapper 2Pac, aka Tupac Shakur.
The triple-platinum track has become a classic of hip-hop, and it’s one of only three hip-hop tracks to be inducted into the Library of Congress registry, which described the song as “a moving and eloquent homage to both the murdered rapper’s own mother and all mothers struggling to maintain a family in the face of addiction, poverty and societal indifference.”
Interest in the song was renewed this year when it served as the inspiration for a five-part docuseries, also titled Dear Mama, about the relationship between 2Pac and his mother, Afeni Shakur. It debuted in April and is available for streaming on Disney-owned streaming service Hulu. The Dear Mama series garnered Tupac a Grammy nomination in the best music film category.
Along with Pizarro, Interscope and UMG, among the various defendants named in the lawsuit are The Walt Disney Company, Hulu, Fox Entertainment, FX Networks, NBC Universal and entertainment company El Matador, due to their involvement in the Dear Mama docuseries.
Also named as defendants are Allen Hughes, the series’ director, and Joshua’s Dream Music, the publishing company for Tupac Shakur’s estate.
“Master Tee did not until very recently appreciate that the royalties which he was deriving from BMI were actually much less than he should have been receiving had his creative work been credited as it should have been from the outset.”
Legal complaint on behalf of Master Tee (aka Terence Thomas)
“While defendants will invariably use the passage of time to attempt a defense, it is noteworthy that only this year has the prime suspect in 2Pac’s 1996 murder been arrested,” the complaint states.
The complaint alleges that Master Tee – who has been working as a New York City bus driver for the past 26 years – is “not a sophisticated business person,” and was unaware that he was owed publishing royalties, on top of producer royalties, until he saw the Dear Mama series earlier this year.
“Master Tee did not until very recently appreciate that the royalties which he was deriving from BMI were actually much less than he should have been receiving had his creative work been credited as it should have been from the outset,” the complaint states.
Using an argument that has been accepted by some – but not all – US federal appeals courts, the complaint says that the three-year limit on filing a copyright infringement claim hasn’t run out in this case, because Master Tee only learned of the alleged infringement this year.
According to the complaint, in 1993, Master Tee was working as a DJ for rapper MC Lyte when he was introduced to Tupac. Master Tee and Tupac then met at Unique Recording Studios in New York City “and recorded the song Dear Mama in or around October of 1993. From this meeting and collaboration, the iconic and historic hip hop song Dear Mama was created.”
As evidence that Master Tee was involved in writing the piece, the complaint points to a 1996 interview in which Tupac says that “Master Tee gave me the beat” for the song, after which Tupac wrote the emotionally-charged lyrics that made the song a classic of urban music.
The complaint also includes a handwritten note, which you can see on Page 4 of the document, purportedly written by Tupac, which lists the tracks on Me Against The World (which during recording had been referred to as Stay True) and lists Master Tee as a producer on Dear Mama.
It also includes a link to the Dear Mama demo, which includes a “producer’s tag” naming Master Tee at the beginning of the track.
“While 2Pac was incarcerated and without initial consent from 2Pac and without ever receiving any consent from Master Tee, Pizarro took the master recording of Dear Mama and made unilateral changes at the bequest of Interscope Records, which Pizarro intended would eliminate Master Tee’s legitimate ownership of copyright,” the complaint alleges.
The complaint adds: “What is abundantly clear and scientifically provable is that the remixed tape reels which were generated by the Defendant Pizarro, dated July 1994 and retitled Dear Mama Remix, were derived from and are the slave versions of the original 2 Inch Master Tape of Dear Mama created in 1993 by 2Pac and Master Tee.”
The complaint asserts that “there is no factual doubt that the defendants, Pizarro, Interscope and Universal Music, conspired and acted together to appropriate as much of the credit to Dear Mama as they could to the exclusion of Master Tee while 2Pac was incarcerated and after his death…
“Corroborative proof of the collusion of Pizarro, Interscope and Universal Music is demonstrated by the fact that Interscope’s management took very limited steps to secure 2Pac’s release from prison. Only after 2Pac agreed to sign a three-album deal with Marion “Suge” Knight’s Def Jam records, were any serious steps taken by 2Pac’s business partners… Prior to that, Interscope and Universal Music let 2Pac languish.”
The lawsuit seeks a declaration by the judge that Master Tee is a co-writer and co-publisher of Dear Mama, as well as an injunction preventing the defendants from collecting royalties on the track until the issue is settled in court.
The lawsuit also seeks an accounting of the money Master Tee is allegedly owed, plus damages for copyright infringement, unjust enrichment and theft of intellectual property, among other charges.
Tupac’s murder remained unsolved for decades, and was the subject of much speculation. A suspect was arrested and charged in the case only this year.Music Business Worldwide