The lawsuit covers the duo's classic work in the '80s, seeking at least $1 million in damages.
The American artists' lawsuit alleges "exploitation," claiming that the duo have never been properly paid royalties for their releases on the label. Their records on Trax include classics like "Bring Down The Walls" and "Washing Machine," under the names Mr. Fingers and Fingers Inc. The lawsuit also alleges that the label enriched itself instead of compensating artists properly.
In a detailed rundown of the complaint, 5 Magazine mentions that contracts signed between 1985 and 1987 for songs like "Never More No Lonely" did not actually assign copyright, and that Trax later claimed to possess copyright for these songs.
Owens and Heard are seeking $150,000 in damages for each work, with a minimum total of $1 million. The duo are being supported in the suit by their publishing company TaP Music.
"I discovered that Larry had found himself in a situation with Trax Records where his lack of legal representation on his first recordings allowed his artistry to be ruthlessly exploited," says Rene Gelston, who has been Heard's manager since 1989, in a press release sent to Resident Advisor. "This story is true of Robert and lots of other artists signed to Trax."
Trax and its founder, Larry Sherman (who died in April), has been the subject of criticism going back to the '80s, surrounding not only unpaid royalties and shoddy contracts signed with artists, but also using recycled vinyl to create cheap, poor-quality pressings. Earlier this month, a Just Giving page aiming to raise money for Chicago acid house pioneer Adonis and his never-seen Trax royalties went viral. Since 2006, the label has been run by Chicago house producer Rachael Cain.
In a statement reported by 5 Magazine, Cain's attorney, Rick Darke, said, "Rachael Cain has been fighting for a long time to get these artists paid, She just hasn’t received the monies from the parties responsible in order to pay them. Casablanca obtained the rights and licenses to music from artists like Heard, and later transferred the rights to another entity. Though Cain has since prevailed on appeal, the parties responsible have not paid up."
This piece was updated on June 26th with Trax's comment to 5 Magazine.