Round 2 in Jay Z and Mahan’s ‘co-ownership’ battle

August 2014

Recorded music, music publishing


This update by Leeza Panayiotou


Readers may recall that back in late April this year, the rumour mill was rife about a rather large spat between Jay Z (aka Sean Carter) and his ex music producer Chauncey Mahan. Mr Carter and his heavyweight Roc Nation collaborator, Live Nation, asserted that Mahan was illegally (via theft and extortion) in possession of several master recordings of Jay Z’s work, said to be at the least worth $15 million. The LAPD was swiftly informed and the master recordings were subsequently seized, whilst Mahan was taken in for questioning. And whilst he was (reportedly) never arrested, things did not look so good for Mr Mahan – to an outsider.

Since then however, the criminal investigation into Mahan has been seemingly closed, and the tables turned with Mahan launching a lawsuit against Jay Z and his entertainment company Roc Nation. On the face of it, it may have appeared as though an embarrassed producer was attempting to save face with a game of litigation tag – however, Mahan’s suit has the potential to pack a serious punch on the whole music industry, way beyond any argument with Jay Z and his company

In his claim, Mahan asserts that he should be credited as joint author with Jay Z of all songs in which he was the producer, amounting to 45 songs in total. Mahan contends in his law suit that he “was in charge of setting up or scheduling the recording sessions and studio time, tracking the prototype beat of the so-called ‘producer,’ pre-mixing the beat, sample editing, choosing the recording methodology and setting up the microphones, vocal recording, vocal coaching, vocal compositing, multi-track mixing, song arranging, pitch shifting, additional editing, and pre-mastering a final version through use of a digital audio workstation such as Pro Tools”. While Mahan openly admits to other producers and ‘joint authors’ additionally being involved in the same creative process, he alleges that consistency and key contributions to the creative process should set them apart, as unlike others, Mahan claims he was always present in the studio during and contributed significantly to the creative process and its outcome.

Furthermore, in order to circumvent the industry standard argument and pre-emptively address accusations of being a disgruntled ‘talent for hire’, Mahan asserts that there was never a relationship of employment between him and Jay Z or Roc Nation. Mahan goes on to claim that he was, to the knowledge of all parties, something of an ‘independent contractor’ or ‘professional freelancer’ who was sufficiently involved in the creative process, rendering him a joint author of the relevant works.  Should this argument succeed in court, the flood gates for other producers could open; it is common practice that producers and their services are contractually treated as ‘for hire’ and as such have no entitlement to any copyright in the ensuing music.  This claim could have even greater ramifications

For the American music industry, apart from challenging the norm, a second concern is that with a copyright regime that enables the ownership in a qualified works to revert to the original creator 35 years following its ‘creation’, irrespective of any contracts renouncing such rights – there may be further problems looming.

However this claim is resolved, there may be more people affected by the outcome than first thought. Watch this space!

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