Kanye West says illegal EMI contract forbids him from retiring

In January, Kanye West filed lawsuits against his longtime record labels, Roc-A-Fella Records and Def Jam, as well as his music publisher, EMI, all in a bid to invalidate his existing contracts with these companies.

Now, The Hollywood Reporter obtained West’s full, unredacted complaint against EMI. In it, West seeks to “obtain his freedom” from his contract with EMI, and he cites a California labor code limiting personal service contracts to no more than seven years as justification of the contract’s illegality.

A stipulation in West’s original contract from EMI, signed in 2003, requires the rapper-producer to “remain actively involved in writing, recording and producing compositions and major label albums, as [his] principle occupation.” It goes on to state that “at no time during the term will [West] seek to retire as a songwriter, recording artist or producer or take any extended hiatus during which [he is] not actively pursuing [his] musical career in the same basic manner as [he has] pursued such career to date.”

Attorneys for West argue such a “lopsided” contract is invalid under California Labor Code section 2855. “It makes no difference under section 2855 whether the contract is otherwise fair, or whether the employer has fulfilled its end of the bargain,” reads the complaint. “It matters only whether the services began more than seven years ago. There can be no dispute that this happened here. The seven year period ended under this contract on October 1st, 2010. For more than eight years thereafter — more than double the maximum seven year period California law allows — EMI has enforced rights in violation of California law, depriving Mr. West of the ‘breathing period’ that California law mandates.”

West is seeking freedom from the contract, as well as ownership of all works published after October 2010 — including such classic albums as My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasyand Yeezus.

EMI contends its deal with West only requires him to “deliver” to EMI his ownership interest in the songs he writes, and doesn’t “constitute contracts for any of [West’s] personal services.” As such, EMI is attempting to move the suite to federal court, which has jurisdiction over copyright law. Under federal law, authors must wait 35 years after the date of publication to reclaim their rights.

West’s legal team cites Gone With the Wind actress Olivia de Havilland’s separation from Warner Bros. in the 1940s as precedent that “employer-inserted clauses [are] unenforceable.” The likes of Olivia Newton-John and Thirty Second to Mars previously pointed to California’s 7-year-rule in their own attempts for contractual freedom.

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