Tim McGraw Gets Former Label's Copyright Lawsuit Dismissed

Curb Records claimed rights to many of the songs on McGraw's "Two Lanes of Freedom" after the singer delivered his prior album early.
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Tim McGraw

In the battle over a musician so desperate to move on with his career that he delivered an album sooner than expected, a round goes to the recording artist.

On Friday, a Tennessee federal judge stopped one of two lawsuits that Curb Records filed against country music superstar Tim McGraw. As a result, the action shifts back to a state court where Curb is pursuing claims that the singer prematurely ended a contractual relationship.

The dispute dates back to May of 2011, when Curb filed a breach-of-contract lawsuit in Tennessee state court, alleging McGraw had delivered his Emotional Traffic album ahead of schedule. The label said that the singer was obligated to space out delivery of his albums. McGraw returned file with counterclaims that stated that Curb wanted him in a state of “involuntary servitude.”

STORY: Tim McGraw Sued by Former Label Curb Records

Last year, the judge in that case denied Curb's request for injunctive relief, allowing McGraw to record music for another label.

And so, McGraw released Two Lanes of Freedom in February for Big Machine Records.

That paved the road to a second lawsuit -- this time filed in federal court -- where Curb claimed that 11 of the songs on Two Lanes of Freedom were first recorded in November of 2011, and that because of the issues surrounding the timing and delivery of his prior album, it owned the copyright to "Undelivered Masters."

Curb believed that Two Lanes of Freedom constituted copyright infringement, normally subject matter for a federal court, but on Friday, U.S. District Judge William Haynes, Jr. noted that "the dominant aspect of Plaintiffs complaint in this action concerns breach of contract claims that are governed by state law and are before the state court."

In deciding to dismiss, the judge points to the state court determining provisionally that McGraw owns certain rights to his recordings -- in particular, those made after December 1, 2011 -- as well as an appeals court's ruling that "without a preliminary determination by the trial court of a dividing line concerning the ownership of masters, the trial court would essentially have given Curb the ability to keep McGraw from moving forward with his recording career."

Thus, Judge Haynes is comfortable with a state judge handling the rights issue at this junction so as to let the dispute proceed on the bigger issue of whether McGraw breached his contract by delivering Emotional Traffic too soon. The judge added that the case could be reopened after a final ruling on the breach of contract lawsuit.

Scott Borchetta, president & CEO of the Big Machine Label Group, issued a statement saying he was "very pleased" with the outcome.

E-mail: Eriq.Gardner@THR.com

Twitter: @eriqgardner