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The electronic duo LMFAO is now appearing at a trial before the California Labor Commissioner, and the dispute with ex-management firm RPMGRP over $7 million in money allegedly owed is exploring the finer nuances of the “remix.”
To quickly review what has happened until this point, LMFAO members Stefan Kendal Gordy (Redfoo) and Skyler Austen Gordy (SkyBlu) were first sued in March 2012 by RPMGRP, a firm run by Rene McLean. The lawsuit alleged that after LMFAO skyrocketed toward success with hits like “Party Rock Anthem” and “Sexy and I Know It,” the electronic duo “thanked their managers who took them ‘from 0 to 60’ by throwing them under the tour bus (i.e. firing them). Instead of hiring new managers, LMFAO then poached two employees of the original managers, hiring them on a salary instead of paying a commission to the original managers.”
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LMFAO responded by filing a petition at the California Labor Commissioner to deem McLean as violating California’s Talent Agencies Act (TAA), which says only licensed talent agents can procure employment for clients. If successful, LMFAO will be able to have their agreement with McLean’s firm declared void and unenforceable.
The TAA is loathed by many Hollywood managers for giving talent an outlet to escape commissions, but the statute hasn’t quite impacted the music business to the same degree thanks to an exclusion for the procurement of recording contracts. As one example, see Macy Gray‘s fight at the California Labor Commissioner, which resulted in a 2001 ruling that the R&B star couldn’t escape obligations to her ex-manager.
In order to prevail, LMFAO will need to show McLean’s firm procured employment for them beyond a recording contract. In the original petition, the electronic duo mentioned things like a Pepsi marketing campaign and multiple performances at clubs and private parties in New York and Los Angeles.
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Now, a trial is focusing on LMFAO’s work remixing songs for Kanye West, Pitbull and others. Are remix agreements “recording contracts”? At trial, both sides have called industry experts to testify.
Ed McPherson, the attorney representing LMFAO, asked David Berman, a retired record label executive, whether he heard anyone ever refer to a remixing contract as a recording agreement. “No,” responded Berman. “They’re not thought of as such.”
So William Hochberg, the attorney representing McLean, responded by asking for the opinion of Owen Sloane, a music attorney. Sloane was referred to an earlier case (Moir Marie Entertainment v. Lord-Alge) and asked whether as a result of the outcome, he agreed that there’s no question a remixing agreement is considered a recording agreement. “Yes, I would [agree],” said Sloane.
Two differing opinions.
“I argue that a holding by the Labor Commission that a talent agent is necessary to procure or negotiate remix agreements would set the industry on its ear,” says Hochberg. “Remixes are an increasingly common feature on the pop music landscape today and are never procured or negotiated by talent agents, to our knowledge.”
LMFAO’s lawyer offers a different assessment.
“McLean’s lawyers have found the only expert in the world who has ever called a producing agreement or a mixing agreement a recording agreement,” says McPherson. “The expert has said basically that any agreement for any step in the process of completing and delivering a finished recording to the record label is a recording agreement, which I supposed would include the guy who sweeps the studio, brings coffee, cleans the studio, sets up the microphones, etc. He is undaunted by the fact that mixing is not even part of the recording process, and is done after all of the actual recording has been completed.”
As for when this trial gets completed, it’s expected to wrap up next week.
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