Thursday, 14 January 2016

Avenged Sevenfold Lawsuit: Thoughts

...Huh, and I thought this blog was going to die after I did the catch up reviews. Seems old habits die hard!

Anyway, a bit of news that has been circulating the news recently is that Avenged Sevenfold have tried to leave Warner Music Group and are being sued by their label. While I will freely admit that I don't know all of the details and am basing this on the original article that was released on, from what I've been able to gather, the band have opted to leave the label as from the 25th of November of last year and the label are suing them under the California Labor Code (the same code that the band are using to justify their departure from the label), citing a breach of contract under the claims that the departure was unlawful and seeking damages for uncompleted albums in their contract (just the one, although it is a bit ugly when you consider that the label had already funded the recording of the band's upcoming album).

Needless to say, this is a topic which I will freely admit that I am not in a valid position to talk about with any authority. After all, I'm British: the California Labor Code is not a thing in UK courts, so I don't know what laws are connected to it and I can't say that I'm that familiar with the specifics of the California Labor Code myself. However, this doesn't mean that I can't give my thoughts on this topic as a music fan and a person looking on in: it just means that you should take what I'm about to say with a good pinch of salt, since I am not able to talk as someone skilled in American law (heck, I'm barely qualified to talk about UK law!).

So, lets start by explaining some of the details that I personally find a bit suspicious about Warner Music Group's side of the debate. Based on the limited information I have, the band sent the label a letter saying that they wanted to sever ties with the label effective from the 25th of November, but the label are claiming that the letter doesn't constitute an official notice because it arrived to them on the 30th of November. This could possibly be excused on some levels, considering that post has to travel a great distance across the US, but I feel that the key point that the label are ignoring is that the letter is clearly indicating that they intend to leave the label on that date, so the implication is that the band had already expressed their dissatisfaction with the label in the past and tried to discuss the issue only to be ignored or that the discussions were felt to be unsatisfactory. The label seems determined to claim that the band doing this was done out of the blue, which also contradicts with their own statement later in their claim of having attempted to renegotiate the band's contract in the fall of 2015 (which, admittedly, is from September to November, so this could be fairly discounted, but, again, begs the question of how the label didn't seem aware that the band weren't happy from these negotiations falling through) to include an extra album and having invested significant funds into the band's next album under the belief that the contract would remain effective. This implies that the label had been fully aware of the letter, yet continued to put money into the band's next record in any case. While the label could be being completely honest (considering how large a label Warner Music Group is, some offices could have failed to have been informed of the decision and put funds towards the band's next album without even being aware of the letter), I personally have to say that I find this very suspicious.

Some people reading this might be thinking the label put the court summons in too late for it to stick. Unfortunately, I have to rain on your parade and say that the label actually DID get them in in time...just. The lawsuit is dated from the 8th of January, which is 44 days from the date of the band's noted date in their letter, which is before the 45 day requirement for a label suing a band to claim lost profits for uncompleted albums ends. Where a valid question DOES deserve to be asked is why the label didn't put them in sooner rather than putting money into the band's next record and trying to renegotiate the band's contract to be further in the label's favor after it was made plain to them that the band didn't want to stick with them any longer. It also begs the counter question of why the label are trying to treat the notification in the letter as invalid, yet still made sure the lawsuit went in before the deadline would have passed from the date of the letter. Maybe I'm overthinking this one, but it seems like a very suspicious move to me, as if the label weren't sure whether they'd be able to get the case to go ahead if it did come down to that point and decided to put the case forward on the last possible day just to be sure it would stick.

I also have to ask how you can sue for lost profits when you've no sure way of knowing how much money you're going to lose. This is more an issue with the law itself than the case, but it seems like a very difficult thing to prove, especially in this day and age where people are arguably more likely to just illegally download an album than buy it. You could argue that the lost profits is more "recovering the money already spent on the next record's stuff", which would be fair enough, but the document specifically is asking for a trial to prevent the band from leaving their contract, have the aforementioned lost profits recouped, restitution and disgorgement of all gains and benefits that Avenged Sevenfold have received (or, in plainer English, the return of anything that the label has given to them and repayment of money given to them to fund the next record, all of which can have interest on top of them), pre- and post-judgement interest (which, I'll admit, doesn't make a huge amount of sense to me, but I'm guessing is related to the last one), attorneys' fees and any other relief deemed appropriate by the courts.

Yeah...forgive me to pointing out the obvious, but that's A LOT the label is demanding, and it's not a small amount of money the label are asking for either: this could well be looking like a 6 digit figure minimum! On top of that, this is intended to go to a trial as well, so it will limit the band's ability to tour because they'll have to work with their attorney to prepare legal documents, be present in court on the appropriate days, call witnesses and all of that. They almost certainly will also not be allowed to sign up to a new label while this is going on because, well, if they turn out to lose the case and have to return to Warner Music Group, then that new contract isn't going to be valid any more and may well incur FURTHER legal stuff with that other label. I won't say that this case could well be the end of the band if they lose it, but what I can say is that expecting the band to be particularly active while this is going on is somewhat unlikely, which isn't going to help keep their momentum going. It's almost like what happened with Helloween between Keeper of the Seven Keys Pt. II and Pink Bubbles Go Ape, although I highly doubt Avenged Sevenfold are going to go on to record anything like 'Heavy Metal Hamsters'...

However, I will have to point out that Avenged Sevenfold's side of the story isn't flawless either. If the label is telling the truth that the band had led them to believe that the contract would remain effective and that the reason they got the money to record their next record is because of this, then I have to say that I have to side with the label on that point, as taking the money from the label and then quitting the label is taking their investment in the band away from them. While I think that the label's demand to everything else is FAR more than acceptable, I think that the label is within their right to ask for the bit of money given for them to record the record (and any that is tour or promo related for the album that they're not doing for the label) back at least, since that's a financial loss which I can understand wanting repaid and feel that the label is justified in receiving that back. Bear in mind, this could still be a decent amount in and of itself (to give you a sense of perspective on this one, Nevermore's album Enemies of Reality from 2003 had a recording budget of about $20,000, which the band felt was not a large amount to record an album on, and the label they were on, Century Media Records, is nowhere near as large as Warner Music Group, so Avenged Sevenfold could well have been given a 6 digit figure to record the album on, maybe even more) and the costs for preparing a world tour and promoting an album will add a fair amount on to that (I can't give exact figures here, but I'm pretty sure that arenas aren't cheap to book and promoting a record requires more than just saying "hey, new record coming out today"), but those costs are ones that I would argue are justified to repay, as this is money that the label put aside for them which isn't going to be returned at all.

I also have to question why the band didn't decide to get out of the contract by requesting that they put out a compilation record or something like that and then waiting until that record had been released before announcing their departure from the label. Now, I'll admit, this one depends on the specifics of the contract (if it specifically says "albums of new material", then a compilation record won't cover it) and I don't know what the contract says, so I'm having to take a guess here, but there are so many cases out there where bands have put out a compilation album to get out of a record deal that I'm surprised the band didn't opt to do that. Although I guess one could make the case that not doing so shows more integrity, since it means that they are actually putting out material that they stand by and not just doing a cash grab to get out of a contract.

Of course, that comment will immediately result in some snide elitist metalhead going "A7X had integrity in the first place?", but I'm not here to judge the band based on their genre. Frankly, I'd be making the same point even if it was One Direction who were in this position: if One Direction said in an interview that they want to leave their label, but they aren't going to put out a cash grab record or a compilation just to fulfill their contract, I'd be applauding them for treating their fans with respect, and I'm saying this as someone who would rather drench himself in petrol and set himself on fire than give them any praise!

Anyway, backtracking a tad, the band apparently owes the label a CD/DVD live album, which they apparently have recorded (if the comments in Blabbermouth are to be believed, which is hardly a good source of information, but it's worth noting), but haven't made steps towards getting released. Running on the assumption that this is true, the quality of the recording is sufficiently good enough to make releasing it a valid option and Arin Ilejay's presence on the recording isn't a problem, I would have to question why that hasn't been just given to the label as the final album on their contract. However, those are some big assumptions to make, so this could well have valid answers which I'm unaware of (and, for all I know, the comments on Blabbermouth could be completely wrong, so I'm going to take that with a pinch of salt).

So yeah, long story short, I have to say that I think Warner Music Group are probably not going to find this case will end well for them. They certainly have a case on SOME aspects of stuff, like the album recording financing aspect, but the rest of it feels like it's going to backfire on them horribly to me, as they are basing their case on facts which don't hold up too well under scrutiny, which look downright suspicious when thought about carefully or are demanding stuff which they don't really have a valid case on. This is all just my personal opinion, obviously, and has no basis in legal fact, but, honestly, I'm more inclined to believe Avenged Sevenfold's story from where I'm sitting, despite them usually not being a band that I care all that much about.

However, the key thing I'm going to end this on is this: we only have one definite article on this case and we do not have the evidence provided by either side in front of us to back up either side. So, while we certainly can speculate on this and give our thoughts, we can't say anything for definite. I would urge everyone to not jump to conclusions on this one just yet, for we do not have an inside eye on the situation and I am basing everything I've said so far on my own observations and using logic to deduce what feels like valid explanations.

Or, to put it another way: treat this whole article as just speculation, because that's all it is on my part.

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