On Tuesday (9-25-12), the Tennessee Court of Appeals upheld a lower Chancery Court ruling denying a request by Curb Records to block Tim McGraw signing and recording with another record label. Barring another appeal being accepted by the Tennessee Supreme Court, this means Tim McGraw is finally free from Curb Records, his label for 20 years who tried to keep him perpetually under contract by claiming the material from his final Curb album Emotional Traffic was recorded too soon after his previous album, and by releasing a comical parade of “Greatest Hits” compilations.
The court battle began in May of 2011 when Curb Records sued Tim McGraw for breach of contract. It got even muddier when during the litigation process, McGraw signed with Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine Records on May 21st, 2012 and announced he’d recorded 20 songs with the label. Curb refused to acknowledge the new signing, asserting that McGraw was still under contract with them and the 20 songs were their intellectual property. Then in a battle of Music Row heavyweights, Curb and Big Machine began releasing competing singles. The courts have since ruled against Curb in a number of smaller decisions leading up to Tuesday’s big decision that should put McGraw’s label status mostly to rest.
“All recordings made after December 1, 2011, belong to McGraw,” the Tennessee Appeals Court ruled. “We find no error in the trial court’s preliminary determination regarding the ownership of masters…We affirm the judgment of the trial court and assess the costs of this appeal against the appellant, Curb Records.”
However Tim McGraw still must navigate the trial hurdle for the original breach of contract issue. Though the courts have ruled that McGraw can now make and release music with a new label, they still must determine if he indeed recorded the music for his last album Emotional Traffic to soon, and if so, what the penalty will be. Curb released a statement after the court ruling, saying in part:
The fundamental issue in this case is whether Tim McGraw fully performed under his contract with Curb Records. That issue has yet to be ruled on by any court, and will be the subject of a full trial on the merits scheduled for later this year.
We respectfully disagree with today’s ruling by the Court of Appeals on that issue, and we intend to continue to pursue this issue, including through the further appeals process as appropriate, in light of the significance of the underlying principles involved.
Those principles include our belief that contracts must be enforced as written, and in particular that exclusive personal services agreements with individuals, such as Mr. McGraw, who possess unique and extraordinary talent, must be subject to enforcement by injunctive relief.