Chuck D Brings Publishing Lawsuit to Federal Court, Claims He Was Cheated Out of Royalties

9167

Chuck D is suing a music publisher in federal court alleging he fraudulently took copyright ownership of 28 of the Public Enemy rapper's recent songs without his authorization. Those include Common's "Black America Again" and Prophets of Rage's eponymous single, "Counteroffensive" and "Fired a Shot." 

Chuck D (whose real name is Carlton Ridenhour) filed a lawsuit Oct. 15 asking a federal judge to declare him the rightful owner of these songs' copyrights. He is also suing for fraud and conversion. The artist alleges Michael Closter and his Reach Global music publishing company used false registration and orchestrated a fraudulent scheme to obtain ownership interests in the musical compositions written and co-written by Ridenhour.

According to the lawsuit, the trouble began in in October 2001 when Closter proposed that he and Ridenhour form a music publishing company to administer musical compositions the artist had recently reacquired from Def Jam. The two established Terrordome Music Publishing, each contributing $500, along with a third investor. Per their agreement, Closter's company Reach was entitled to 10% of gross profit from Terrordome publishing and licensing deals. In addition, other proceeds from the company were split 42% for Closter's Reach Global an 58% for Ridenhour's Bring the Noize Music (BTNM) company.

Ridenhour says he did not realize until February 2019 that Terrordome actually acquired ownership of his copyrights instead of just functioning as the publishing and licensing administrator. According to the lawsuit, without Ridenhour's knowledge, Closter registered the songs Ridenhour wrote or co-wrote after 2012 with the copyright office in the name of Terrordome. Now, because of Closter's 42% interest in Terrordome, he has allegedly reaped "the illicit profits of which Ridenhour has been deprived." 

In response, Closter's attorney Larry Iser blames the lawsuit on Chuck D's new management, telling Billboard that Ridenhour has been earning millions through this "very successful business relationship" and has only very recently expressed frustration with their arrangement. 

"In his latest frivolous court filing, Carlton Ridenhour (Chuck D) alleges that an entity in which he has a 58% ownership interest, Terrordome Music Publishing, wrongfully filed copyright registrations on 28 compositions he wrote," Iser told Billboard in a statement. "Notably, Mr. Ridenhour did not sue his entity Terrordome (the entity that filed the registrations) rather, he continues his pattern of harassment by litigation against Michael Closter and Reach Global.

"18 years ago, Mr. Ridenhour voluntarily signed agreements that granted Reach a minority ownership interest in Mr. Ridenhour's share of his music copyrights. Mr. Ridenhour had a lawyer and manager review the agreements and they were signed at the manager's house in Los Angeles. Since that time, Mr. Ridenhour enjoyed a positive and very successful business relationship through his company Terrordome, reaping millions of dollars in royalties and hundreds of thousands of additional dollars to cover his expenses. Not once did Mr. Ridenhour ever express frustration in his business dealings with Mr. Closter. Now, Mr. Ridenhour has new management that is seeking to intimidate Mr. Closter into giving up his minority interest in Terrordome by filing repetitive, baseless lawsuits. Mr. Closter intends to defend himself vigorously, and we look forward to proving the validity of his agreements with Mr. Ridenhour."

Closter himself told Billboard, "Chuck D, who I have been friends with for 25 years, could have easily met and spoken with me to discuss any issues of concern. Instead, apparently at the advice of his 'new team' that surrounds him, he has allowed lawsuits to be filed on his behalf, which are littered with false and easily disprovable claims. Chuck has received millions in dollars in royalties, based on legally binding agreements, and nothing has been done without Chuck's knowledge. Since Chuck apparently believes that litigation is the path to go, we shall litigate and vigorously defend ourselves."

Chuck D’s manager, Lorrie Boula, commented on the lawsuit, noting Flavor Flav's own lawsuit against Reach Music in 2017 that also named Eastlink Productions, producer Gary "G-Wiz" Rinaldo, SLAMjamz Records, Sounddome Entertainment, Inc., manager Clifton "Greg" Johnson, Xecutive Entertainment and Ridenhour (Chuck D) himself as defendants.  

"We stand by our claims," she said in a statement. "We spent three years researching and gathering documentation before we decided to file multiple lawsuits against Reach. We also closely monitored Flavor Flav’s 2017 lawsuit against Reach, which had many similar claims. Ultimately, Reach settled with Flavor for an undisclosed amount and the settlement was sealed. We are confident that we will be triumphant."

In July, Ridenhour filed an initial lawsuit against Closter and his publishing company Reach Music in state court accusing him of creating a complex plan of "unconscionable contracts, hidden transactions, false and fraudulent copyright registrations and false incomplete accountings" to deprive him of composition copyrights of works he created as part of Public Enemy. In that lawsuit, Ridenhour was seeking $1 million in damages, full ownership of his composition copyrights, an order for defendants to furnish accurate accounting documents and pay any money previously withheld and additional exemplary damages.

Closter has since filed a motion to dismiss the California lawsuit, arguing it was not filed in the proper state of New York where Terrordome and BTNM are incorporated. He also argues in the motion that Ridenhour was well aware that the company they formed was enacted to monetize and exploit his reclaimed Public Enemy publishing rights. A hearing in that case is set for Nov. 25.