Courtney Love Wins Right to Sue Universal

ByABC News

March 1, 2001 -- Courtney Love's dissatisfaction with the inner workings of the music biz took a step forward Wednesday, as a court allowed her to file a countersuit against Vivendi Universal, the parent company of her band's record label.

Universal Music Group is suing the Hole frontwoman for failing to deliver five albums promised in a contract the label says she willingly signed. Love is seeking to break that contract and reveal the "repressive and unfair working conditions" of the recording industry.

"Artists who have generated billions of dollars for the music industry die broke and uncared for by the business they made wealthy," Love said in a statement issued on Wednesday. "I'm driven by the misfortune of other artists who don't have my privilege and ability."

Standard recording agreements often lock in artists for many years, requiring them to bear many of their own production and marketing costs, taking a huge chunk of any financial returns they may enjoy, Love's lawyer, A. Barry Cappello, said.

Representatives for the actress and singer-songwriter appeared at a hearing in Los Angeles Superior Court, where a judge granted their motion to file the countersuit.

A spokesperson for Vivendi Universal, the world's biggest music company, was not immediately available for comment but in legal papers dismissed Love's suit as being without merit and inflammatory, designed to attract media attention.

Music and legal experts call Love's contract with Universal a standard industry agreement.

But Cappello, Love's attorney, said the case is taking aim specifically at the industry's practice of locking artists into long-term contracts that extend for much longer than allowed in other businesses, like television, film, and sports.

In 1987, the record companies lobbied legislators to pass an amendment to the Labor Code Section 2855 that applies only to recording artists and allows record companies to sue recording artists for damages if the artists do not fulfill their original contract.

But after seven years, this amendment is no longer relevant, said Cappello, and artists have the legal right to terminate a recording contract without repercussions, he said.

Labels nevertheless continue to intimidate artists trying to end contracts after seven years by suing them for lost profits, he explained.

Cappello said that this suit "will shake the very core of the way business is conducted in the music industry, and it will give countless musicians the financial and artistic freedom they do not currently enjoy."

"I'm one in a long line of artists who have tried to break free since the [Universal-PolyGram] merger," Love said. "Beck, Garbage, Sheryl Crow, and others have tried to leave or sue that company, and they've all been shut down or threatened."

Crow's attorney, Jay Cooper, said, "Sheryl expressed some unhappiness but never threatened to sue, and eventually we renegotiated the contract."

He concurred with Love, however, that the record labels often have the advantage over artists. "The record companies have a lot of strong bargaining power because the artists don't have a lot of places they can go," he said.

"I think this case will have an impact on the industry and can change the terms of contracts," he explained. "Many artists feel they are tied to the contracts for too long."

Love told the Los Angeles Times in an interview on Wednesday, "I could end up being the music industry's worst nightmare — a smart gal with a fat bank account who is unafraid to go down in flames fighting for a principle."

In addition to releasing several successful albums with Hole, Love also controls the estate and catalog of her late husband, Nirvana star Kurt Cobain, whose music generates millions of dollars annually. She has also starred in such movies as Man on the Moon and The People vs. Larry Flynt.

The bitter fight hasn't soured the singer completely on recording. According to Web site holemusic.com, she has been talking with independent punk label Epitaph Records about plans "to assemble and front a femme punk supergroup."

Reuters contributed to this report.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events