Dr. Dre Sues Death Row Records, Now Owned By A Trademark Attorney – That’s Gangsta

trademark-attorney-dr-dre-death-row-records-world-class-wreckin-cru.jpgLA, CA – Dr. Dre, whose real name is Andre Young, sued the new Death Row records for trademark infringement, breach of contract, violation of the right of publicity, and unfair competition. The complaint claims that nothing has changed at Death Row: “meet the new boss, same as the old boss” and alleges:

Whether you get thugged or the check just doesn’t come, it’s all the same — someone else has your money. And whether it’s a platitude-spouting, self-proclaimed soccer mom or a supposed gangster who isn’t paying you, it doesn’t change the fact that you’re not getting paid. Read the complaint here.

The rap star and record producer co-founded Death Row records in 1991 with Marion “Suge” Knight and began the gangsta rap movement. Few, however, remember Dr. Dre’s “less Gangsta” side when he was on the turntables for the World Class Wreckin Cru – but I digress. The parties verbally agreed that in exchange for payment of royalties to Dr. Dre, Death Row received a non-exclusive license to release sound recordings that he produced, composed and/or performed on. Dr. Dre’s first record release under the Death Row label was “The Chronic” in 1992, which was a huge success.

By 1996, Dr. Dre wanted to “escape” Death Row and entered into a written agreement where Dr. Dre would relinquish his 50% ownership interest in Death Row and assign all copyrights in his recordings. However, the copyrights were assigned to the extent that the “master recordings shall only be distributed in the manners heretofore distributed.” In return, Death Row agreed to pay royalties to Dr. Dre from the sales of the sound recordings that he wrote, produced, or performed on. The transfer included other smash hits such as Doggystyle, Murder Was the Case, and Above the Rim.

In 2006, Death Row filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and at the bankruptcy auction in January of 2009, Wideawake Entertainment, whose CEO is a trademark attorney, purchased Death Row’s assets. The complaint alleges that in the Spring of 2009, Defendants were put on notice that the “1996 Agreement prohibited defendants from releasing The Chronic in any manner in which it was not distributed prior to the 1996 Agreement.” Dr. Dre further alleges that defendants brazenly ignored the agreement and released an album and DVD entitled The Chronic Re-Lit & From the Vault. The release of “Re-Lit” is “a calculated breach of the 1996 Agreement; a willful violation of plaintiff’s rights to his name and likeness, and his trademark, “Dr. Dre”…; and a fraud on the public…”

Dr. Dre also claims that Defendants have breached the agreements by failing to pay him royalties since 1996, by digitally distributing The Chronic, and including his recordings in a compilation album entitled “Death Row’s Greatest Hits.”

Does “fear for your life” excuse a thirteen-year delay in filing a breach of contract lawsuit and overcome the statute of limitations issue? Subpoena Vanilla Ice regarding negotiations with Mr. Knight.

The case is Andre Young v. Wideawake Death Row Entertainment, LLC et al., CV10-01019 CAS (C.D.Cal. 2010).