On Monday, Mr. Vegas and VP Records told a New York court that they were unable to hash out a settlement in a lawsuit filed against the label over copyright infringement and breach of contract, among other things.
The lawsuit brings to the fore the informal and sometimes non-existent contracts between artists and producers that governed much of the Dancehall music that was released during the 90s and early 2000s.
It was originally filed in November 2020, and the dispute surrounds Mr. Vegas’ hit songs Heads High (1997) and its Kill ‘Em Wid it Re-mix (1998), Sucky Ducky (1998), Hot Wuk (2006), and Gallis (2009). It also involves four songs from Sean Paul’s debut album Stage One (2000), namely Haffi Get De Gal Ya (Hot Gal Today), Tiger Bone, and the skit Nicky, all of which featured Mr. Vegas; and Check It Deeply, which was produced by Mr. Vegas.
Court records obtained by DancehallMag revealed that Vegas (and his royalty collection company MV Music LLC) had engaged in court-ordered mediation with VP (V.P. Records Retail Outlet, Inc, V.P. Music Group, Inc and VP Music) over the last month.
Mediation is a type of dispute resolution supervised by a neutral third party, in which the other parties try to come to an agreement on their dispute outside of court.
On June 13, 2022, the parties informed Judge Marcia M. Henry that the mediation efforts had failed. They, however, have agreed to a settlement conference with the judge, to be held on July 19, 2022, in another attempt to resolve the dispute before it moves toward a jury trial.
The two parties had entered the court’s mediation program even as VP filed a motion to dismiss Vegas’ claims in their entirety.
Judge Henry is yet to rule on that motion, the court records show.
VP, represented by attorney Daniel J. Aaron, has argued that the songs, among them, Heads High, Hot Wuk, and Gallis, were only registered by Mr. Vegas with the US Copyright Office in late 2021, one year after the lawsuit was originally filed, which, according to Aaron, is contrary to US State law and grounds for the copyright lawsuit to be completely dismissed.
However, Mr. Vegas, who is represented by attorneys Collen Ni Chairmhaic and Heather Cunningham, has contended that his amended complaint was properly filed after the Copyright Registrations were completed in December 2021.
Breach Of Contract
Meanwhile, the first point of contention in the lawsuit is whether VP Records is responsible for an alleged breach of a contract that was signed between Greensleeves Records and Mr. Vegas. Under that contract, Heads High and its remix appeared on Vegas’ 20-track Heads High album, which was released via Greensleeves in 1998.
Greensleeves was later acquired by VP Records in 2008.
In his complaint, Vegas alleged that prior to the acquisition, Greensleeves paid and accounted for the royalties for the two versions of Heads High. “However since the Acquisition, the Greensleeves’ royalty statements no longer include royalties for the Records,” the complaint noted.
In response, VP has contended that they were not a party to the contract. They noted that Greensleeves Records was not named as a Defendant in Vegas’ lawsuit even though the company still exists. DancehallMag has recently reported that Greensleeves is, in fact, currently suing Chris Brown and Sony over a Red Rat song.
VP also said that Vegas has offered no facts to support the claim that the named defendants are “liable for the actions or obligations of Greensleeves by reason of acquiring Greensleeves.”
Heads High, which is Mr. Vegas’ most streamed song on several platforms, is the subject of other disputed facts in the complex case.
In addition to the breach of contract, Vegas has also accused VP Records of infringing on his Heads High copyright, as well as his copyright for the Heads High video. According to Mr. Vegas, he had paid for the production of the video, which VP allegedly placed on their YouTube channel, “without authority to do so in the assigned Contract.”
The song was produced by Danny Browne on the Filthy Riddim, which was sampled by Nicki Minaj in her 2019 hit Megatron. The riddim spawned other hits such as General Degree’s Traffic Blocking, Beenie Man’s Let Him Go and Lady G’s Breeze Off, but according to Mr. Vegas, Minaj herself had admitted publicly, that Megatron was inspired by his Heads High.
It should be noted that in October 2021, Vegas called on Minaj to “fix things” as he decried the modus operandi of producers who profit whenever an artist’s lyrics are sampled, while artists are not being extended the same courtesy when producers’ riddims are sampled. He shared a copy of an email dated September 15, 2021, relating to Minaj’s representative’s response to the royalties “claim” that he had submitted over the Megatron sample. The email stated that “the other publishers listed on the registration do not agree that Mr. Vegas should have a share. I can’t do anything with it if the other publishers won’t recognize Mr. Vegas”.
In the 35-page complaint, Vegas acknowledged that the song was produced by Browne but contended that he “wrote the lyrics and melody independent of the beat” and that “he owns the copyright in his performance on the recording because he never signed over his rights in the vocal performance given on the recording.”
Vegas complained to the court that he was of the belief that the Heads High royalties were being paid solely to Browne.
Vegas added: “VP would license recordings exclusively from Producers even though Jamaican law does not provide that Producers wholly own the copyright in the sound recordings. Jamaica is a signatory to the Berne Convention, the Rome Convention and the TRIPS Agreement, which protects Performers from the unauthorized fixation of their performance on a phonogram.”
However, to the contrary, VP has asserted that Jamaican law does not vest copyright ownership in a sound recording with the performers. “Under Jamaican law, the ‘author of a protected work is the first owner of any copyright.’,” the record label noted. “The ‘author’ for purposes of Jamaican copyright ownership in a ‘sound recording’ is the ‘person by whom the arrangements necessary for the making of the recording . . . are undertaken’”.
“[Danny Brown] arranged for the recording to be made and released on his label Juvenile and he is the owner of the copyright in the sound recording under Jamaican law,” they added.
VP concluded, in their response to Vegas’ copyright claims, that their license to exploit the musical works, which were obtained through Greensleeves Records, was a valid defense and, as such, the claims should be dismissed.
Mr. Vegas also contends that VP infringed on his copyrights when it included Heads High, Hot Gyal Today, and/or Gallis on several compilation albums.
Reggae Gold 1998 included Heads High, while Reggae Gold 1999 included the Heads High remix and Hot Gyal Today. Classic Rhythms Vol 4 had also included the Heads High remix, while Gallis was included on Riddim Driven: Trippple Bounce and Strictly The Best, Vol. 41.
Vegas alleged that he has never signed a license for the songs to be included in these compilations and that he has never received any royalties from the “commercial exploitation” of the compilations, which, according to him, have sold millions of records.
With regards to Gallis, Sucky Ducky, and Hot Wuk, Mr. Vegas has alleged that VP infringed on his copyright and also breached the contract when it “held itself out as acting as a fiduciary” of Vegas for the collection of royalties on those songs, based on a “purported extension of the assigned contract.”
He has also claimed that the company “breached their duty” to him “by fraudulently concealing and/or converting” the royalties for the three songs.
Sean Paul Recordings
Mr. Vegas has also alleged that VP, who released Sean Paul’s Stage One album in partnership with Universal, had infringed on his copyright when they allegedly failed to obtain his permission to use “his composition, production, performance, brand, sound or likeness” in the four songs that he contributed to on the album.
He also claimed that he has never received royalties for his contributions to the Stage One album, which, according to the complaint, has sold over 500,000 records.