James Mtume is loking to regain control of his catalog.
If the name Mtume sounds familiar, it’s because it is the namesake attached to the 1983 hit “Juicy Fruit.” While the track found its fair share of success for the band in the 80s, even sitting at No. 1 on Billboard’s R&B Chart for 8 weeks, the song is popularly known as the base sample in The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Juicy” single.
Now founding member James Mtume is suing Sony Music over the rights to the catalog he compiled through the 1970s and 1980s, including “Juicy Fruit” and two albums—1978’s Kiss The World Goodbye and 1980’s In Search of the Rainbow Seekers.
Following in trend with members of groups like the Village People, Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, and Huey Lewis and The News, Mtume is looking toward Section 203 of the U.S. Copyright Act to reclaim rights to his music. The code suggests that rights to work created on or after January 1, 1978 can be lawfully transferred back to the author. In addition, Mtume is also seeking accounting on royalties for his copyright interest on Biggie’s “Juicy” single and his albums.
According to the lawsuit, Sony Music was delayed by two years in responding to the termination of rights notice he sent in July 2015, which sought to reclaim his ownerships of recording created between 1978 and 1983. Sony Music finally responded on July 21, 2017 stating that Mtume’s recordings were works made for hire—which would negate the implication of Section 203. In his suit, Mtume is requesting a declaration that the works were not created under a work-for-hire agreement and that he is the sole copyright owner.
The label also argues that there may be other authors whose permissions would be necessary for termination, adding that the recordings are not subject to Section 203 because they were created pursuant to a grant in a 1977 agreement.