Tap Publishing has won a legal battle for house music pioneers Larry Heard and Robert Owens.
Following the court case in Illinois, supported by Tap, Heard and Owens have reclaimed their rights to classic songs.
As Fingers Inc (and solo by Heard as Mr. Fingers), the pair were behind 1980s singles such as Can You Feel It, Bring Down The Walls, Beyond The Clouds and Mysteries Of Love. Heard, who’s known as the godfather of deep house, has been sampled by Kanye West and was paired with Dua Lipa for remix album Club Future Nostalgia. Owens’ tracks include I’ll Be Your Friend and Frankie Knuckles collaboration Tears.
For the past two years, they have been pursuing a civil suit against Trax Records over non-payment of royalties. There have been longstanding concerns with Trax’s historical contractual dealings with artists.
Trax entered bankruptcy in the 1990s and, following joint venture investment, was ultimately sold off to third parties. Trax was originally established by Larry Sherman, who died in 2020.
With the support of Tap Music Publishing, who represent Heard’s and Owens’ work, they filed a lawsuit against Trax, Sherman and co-owner Rachel Cain, claiming copyright infringement, fraud and breach of contract. This alleged that Trax, Sherman and Cain “during the decades since [they] first began exploiting [Heard’s and Owens’] musical works … enriched themselves and brazenly exploited [the] musical works for their sole benefit, while encouraging, and enabling, and aiding and abetting others to do so as well.”
In May 2022, after two years of litigation, Trax in a negotiated settlement agreed to relinquish any and all rights to their musical works. The result of the case has now been made public.
“This is a huge victory not only for Heard and Owens but, symbolically, for the artistic community,” said a statement from Tap. “At a time when the ‘whitewashing’ of dance music and its culture is under the spotlight, this return of foundational creative works to the Black creators who rightly own them is a reminder of historical injustices at the heart of this culture, but also a shining example of how some at least of those wrongs can be righted.”
Anna Neville, global co-president Tap Music, said: “At Tap Music Publishing we don’t only help nurture careers, provide creative support and opportunity for our writers, and efficiently collect their money, but also fight with them to defend their songs too. It’s been a pleasure to work with Larry and Robert on this and I’m so pleased they have control of their artistic works and their incredible legacy, which is evident from listening to how much of pop music today is influenced by the dance music they created. They deserve to be rewarded for their profound contribution to music over the last 40 years.”
Heard and Owens are now taking some time to decide how best they can showcase their newly returned musical treasures.