According to a Tap statement, the legal action, filed on June 23 in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, alleges “exploitation of the artists and their works, including unpaid royalties” over Heard (aka Mr Fingers) and Owens’ 1980s recordings and compositions. Both were members of pioneering house group Fingers Inc and have enjoyed long and influential careers in dance music.
“After doing several releases independently, it was so disappointing that my earliest venture 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,” claimed Heard. “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.”
“Trax’s treatment of those artists on its label is notorious to those in the electronic world,” claimed Owens. “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.”
Trax, an important outlet for house music as it emerged from Chicago in the '80s, was revived in 2006 under Rachael Cain. Founder Larry Sherman passed away earlier this year.
Rene Gelston, Larry Heard’s manager since 1989, said: “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.”
Tap Music co-founder Ben Mawson said: “Ed [Millett, Tap co-founder] 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, litigator at Meloni & McCaffrey, noted the long history of African-American artists being exploited by the music business and said: “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.”
In response, Rachael Cain issued a statement through her attorney, Rick Darke of Duane Morris LLP. Darke said Cain had been working for 15 years to get artists like Heard and Owen royalties. He cited a long legal dispute with a Canadian investor, Casablanca Trax Inc, noting that Casablanca obtained the rights and licences to music from artists like Heard, and later transferred the rights to another entity. Darke said that, although Cain has since prevailed on appeal, the parties responsible have not paid up.
"Rachael Cain has been fighting for a long time to get these artists paid," said Darke. "She just hasn't received the monies from the parties responsible in order to pay them."
Cain herself added: "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."
Tap, one of the most successful management companies in the biz, with clients including Lana Del Rey and Dua Lipa, has been beefing up its publishing operation of late. The publishing division operates in partnership with Universal Music Publishing Group.