Kanye West owes millions all over town for unpaid contract work and music samples, lawsuits allege

Kanye West owes millions all over town for unpaid contract work and music samples, lawsuits allege
kanye west
Kanye West is seen in Chelsea on January 05, 2022 in New York City.Gotham/GC Images/Getty Images
  • Kanye West went without business partners after they abandoned him for antisemitic tirades.

  • He tried that earlier with his music and has been hit with copyright lawsuits related to sampling.

  • West has also been dogged in recent years by lawsuits alleging he stiffed employees and contractors.

When Kanye West released his eleventh album, "Donda 2," earlier this year, he shed his usual business infrastructure.

He didn't release it under Def Jam Recordings, the Universal-owned label he's called home since his first album, "The College Dropout," in 2004. He didn't even use GOOD Music, the record label he personally founded.

Instead, he released it himself. West — who also goes by the name Ye — decided to put "Donda 2" on the Stem Player, a music remixing device he helped invent that costs about $200.

No one can be quite sure if "Donda 2" was a flop, since Billboard refused to chart it, but the rollout was a disaster. Many fans simply pirated the album instead of paying for a Stem Player. And what followed was a thicket of lawsuits from people who alleged West failed to properly credit their songs when using samples for the album.

The "Donda 2" fiasco foreshadows the legal risks West now faces as major brands and financial partners have abandoned him for his hateful conspiracy theories and violent threats toward Jews. He has already fallen fast from grace, losing fans and, he said, owing the IRS $50 million, apparently unable to hire capable tax advisors.

Yet without the usual corporate infrastructure behind his projects, West has been busy planning independent fashion projects without any major backers and launching a presidential campaign with a ragtag group of white nationalists.

If recent history is any indication, he'll have a host of more legal problems soon.

Lawsuits allege West failed to get rights for songs sampled in 'Donda 2'

Earlier this month, a recording label sued West, alleging he violated the company's copyright by knowingly sampling the song "South Bronx" by Boogie Down Productions on his song "Life of the Party."

West knew the song infringed on the copyright, according to the lawsuit, because his clearance agent asked for permission to use it on "Donda 2" but never actually got it.

"The communications confirmed that South Bronx had been incorporated into the Infringing Track even though West had yet to obtain such license," the lawsuit says. "Upon information and belief, despite the fact that final clearance for use of South Bronx in the Infringing Track was never authorized, the Infringing Track was nevertheless reproduced, sold, distributed, publicly performed and exploited in numerous ways."

Worse still, according to the lawsuit, West and his pals used "Life of the Party" to market the Stem Player. The Stem Player itself encourages more copyright infringement, the lawsuit alleges, since it allows people to split songs "into stems that can then be freely customized and manipulated using the device."

Kanye West
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 28: Kanye West aka Ye is seen on October 28, 2022 in Los Angeles, California.MEGA/GC Images/Getty Images

The lawsuit followed a similar one from June, in which another label alleged West sampled a different song on a "Donda 2" track without permission.

"Specifically, West's song 'Flowers' — reportedly written about his estranged wife, Kim Kardashian — directly samples an iconic song written by another Chicago native, Marshall Jefferson, in 1986," the lawsuit says. "That song, titled 'Move Your Body,' and known as 'The House Music Anthem,' is instantly recognizable; the unauthorized sample taken by West is repeated at least 22 times throughout 'Flowers.'"

On October 31, US District Judge Analisa Torres, who is overseeing the case, ordered the parties to prepare for a trial since they failed to come to a settlement.

Unfortunately for West, her order was issued just after he threatened to go "death con 3" on Jews. His lawyers at Greenberg Traurig LLP asked Torres to let them withdraw from the case. They filed their reasoning under seal, but Torres indicated she's inclined to grant their request so long as they can prove they serve West with documents telling him they're dumping him.

A person familiar with the situation confirmed to Insider that West has been served such papers.

"We condemn antisemitism and all hate speech or bigotry, which is repugnant to the core values we believe in and live," Greenberg Traurig LLP told Insider in a statement. "This firm was founded by individuals who faced discrimination and many of us lost ancestors because of that kind of hate and prejudice. Accordingly, our firm has moved to withdraw from our representations. We will not take on any future matters."

A representative for West didn't immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.

West allegedly sampled people's prayers in his songs without paying them

Virtually every popular music artist is sued by lesser-known artists over alleged copyright infringement. It's part of the business.

What makes West unique is his proclivity for sampling from unexpected places. His song "Come to Life," on his 2021 album "Donda," features part of a sermon running as a refrain as West sings about sadness and salvation.

Bishop David Paul Moten, a Texas-based pastor who says he gave the sermon, sued West in May, alleging it was used without his permission and that neither West nor his music producers ever paid him for the sample.

"Defendants willfully and without the permission or consent of Plaintiff extensively sampled portions of the Sermon," the lawsuit said. "Over the span of several years, Defendants have demonstrated an alarming pattern and practice of willfully and egregiously sampling sound recordings of others without consent or permission."

kanye west sunday service easter coachella
INDIO, CALIF. - APRIL 21: Kanye West's Easter Sunday Service during Weekend 2 of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival at the Empire Polo Club on Sunday, April 21, 2019 in Indio, Calif.Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

A later court filing indicated Moten planned to temporarily withdraw the lawsuit as he obtained a copyright for his sermon. Moten told Insider the lawsuit is "definitely ongoing" and referred all questions to his attorney, who didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

In January 2021, West reached a settlement over a comparable situation.

In 2019, the guardians of a 4-year-old girl (identified as "NG" in court filings) sued West for sampling her prayers, which went viral on Instagram, in his track "Ultralight Beam."

A member of West's team reached out to obtain permission just days before the song was released, in 2016, but the parties ultimately hadn't reached a written agreement and didn't establish how much West would pay for the usage of the prayer audio, according to the lawsuit.

Court records show the parties arrived at a settlement after the girl's guardians successfully convinced the judge overseeing the case to force West to sit for a deposition.

West has a track record of failing to pay people who work for him

Aside from allegedly pilfering songs, West has been hit with a smattering of lawsuits in recent years alleging he failed to pay for work done on his behalf.

Those lawsuits include:

All of these lawsuits were filed in the last three years and remain pending. West has either denied the allegations or has not yet responded in court filings.

He has settled, however, in one similar case. In September of 2021, he reached an agreement with MyChannel, a company that alleged West stiffed it millions of dollars. The terms of the settlement weren't disclosed in court.

MyChannel, the lawsuit said, spent months developing proprietary technology at West's request for his fashion brands, only for West to fail to deliver on a promised investment in the company. The company squandered months on the work, even relocating its headquarters to better closely work with West.

In the end, the lawsuit alleged, West used a rip-off of MyChannel's e-commerce technology to sell his clothing at a concert. It was so blatant, according to the lawsuit, that even West's confidants praised MyChannel for the work.

When MyChannel followed up with West's manager after the concert, the company received no response, the lawsuit says.

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