Musicians have been talking about defying “the man” since the dawn of time — it’s the rock ’n’ roll ethos, right? It seems to some bands that “man” was their record label, and “defying” them actually resulted in a few lengthy court battles to fight over ownership of music, fulfilment of contracts, album prices and much more.

Rather than battle of the bands, the music industry has had far too many battles with the labels. We’ve selected some of the more intense or notable battles artists have undertaken against their label that have made headlines or history, with some even changing the interworking of the industry and how labels operate with musicians, ultimately setting a precedent for the rest of the music industry.

7 Times Musicians Battled Their Record Labels
Always a messy situation.

Avenged Sevenfold vs. Warner Music

Straight off the bat we have a lawsuit that’s said to have potential to set “law-making history” in the state of California. After signing to Warner in 2004, Avenged Sevenfold released a string of albums with the label before inevitably deciding to terminate their business with the label in 2016.
It’s important to note here that the band invoked California’s “seven-year-rule,” which limits personal-services contracts to seven years, thus leading the A7X boys to Capitol Records instead to release their 2016 album The Stage. In January of 2017, Warner sued for damages, and the two became intertwined in a battle over finances and essentially a “who owes who” situation.

As Billboard explained, prominent music business attorneys say they’ve never seen cases involving damages for unreleased albums that have actually made it to court. This case could set an important precedent that could either make it easier or extremely expensive for bands to leave a recording contract. As far as we know this case is still ongoing as of July 2021 with no concrete conclusion.

Courtney Love vs. Universal

Another artist to invoke the seven-year rule was Courtney Love in 2001, but first we’ve got to take it back to December 1999 when Love refused to record any further music for the label after her contract was improperly acquired by another label, Universal’s parent company Vivendi Universal. Universal sued for compensation for a grand total of five undelivered albums in 2000, and that’s when Love countersued in 2001 by invoking the California law. She eventually settled in 2002.
This isn’t her first rodeo either, Love and Universal have a strained relationship to say the least. In the early 2000s Love would go on to sue the remaining members of Nirvana, Nirvana L.L.C. (a partnership formed to manage affairs in 1997), Geffen Records and Universal to revert all rights of Nirvana back to her. She also joined a troop of artists, from Soundgarden to Tupac, to sue Universal after a warehouse fire in 2008 destroyed one-of-a-kind master tapes, including ones from her band Hole.
In true Rockstar style, Courtney Love is so entrenched in court chaos that there’s actually a whole section on her Wikipedia dedicated to her toppling amount of legal battles. How does she have the time?

Amy Lee vs. Wind-Up Records

Who would have thought that being lame could get you sued? That’s what happened, according to TMZ, when Amy Lee took on Wind Up Records in 2014, claiming that the record label “hatched a plot to sabotage Evanescence by replacing its promoters with a bunch of idiots who ended up torpedoing the group with lame ideas.”

Aside from being totally un-rad, the record label allegedly withheld $1.5 million dollars in royalties, Lee claims. Later that year the vocalist took to Twitter to announce that they had been freed from the label and would be independent moving forward and that was the end of that.

Trent Reznor vs. Universal

In the 2000s everyone had a bone to pick with their record label, Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails joins the rockstars vs labels alumni after a long-standing feud with Universal that all started when the label hiked up the prices of NIN’s fifth studio album Year Zero in foreign markets.
While there was no legal battle, this prompted Reznor to tell Australian fans to just illegally download their music instead of paying the high prices. This clearly left a bad taste in Reznor’s mouth, and after eventually being released from the label in 2007, he gushed about it being a “great pleasure” to leave now he was finally “able to have a direct relationship with the audience as I see fit.”  

A Day to Remember vs. Victory Records

Everyone remembers the “musicians vs label” lawsuit of their generation, and for many younger pop-punk and metalcore fans, Victory Records vs everyone encapsulates the 2010s. A Day To Remember is one notable band to battle head to head with them, the result being their 2013 Common Courtesy album as we now know.

But back in November 2016 ADTR bagged a $4.02 million dollar win against Victory for a breach of contract after a five-year battle, with three of the four issues they cited (fulfilling the bands contract, controlling the band’s publishing, and digital royalty withheld from the band) being won in the bands favor. This debacle was nodded to by the band on their 2013 Common Courtesy, their first independent record after a judge granted them permission to release it on Oct. 5, 2013 while their case was still ongoing. Audio snippets from their manager’s angry voicemail to the band sending their goodbye email to the label can be heard at the start and end of “Sometimes You’re The Hammer, Sometimes You’re The Nail.”

In A Day To Remember’s statement after the court granted them the ability to actually release Common Courtesy, they said ““In May of 2011 we joined the long list of bands that have filed suit against Victory Records.  Although our case is still ongoing, we are very pleased with the judge’s decision to allow us to release our next record.” Yep, you read that right, ADTR were just one of MANY bands to take on Victory Records.   

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