Grammy-winning singer H.E.R. is suing her record label MBK Entertainment, claiming that her contract breaks labor code statutes and must be voided.
In her suit filed in Los Angeles last Thursday, H.E.R., whose real name is Gabriella Wilson, claims that MBK Entertainment, the record label of her manager Jeff Robinson, violated California’s business and professions code with her contract, which she signed at age 14.
The suit, first reported by the Blast, alleges that Wilson didn’t have proper independent legal representation following her signing with MBK in 2011. Robinson, founder of the company and former manager to Alicia Keys, became her manager soon after she signed, and he allegedly fired her old law firm before bringing in his own lawyers to negotiate subsequent deals such as her publishing deal. Such an act could present a potential conflict of interest because Robinson would be representing both the artist and the label, but as the suit states, Wilson never signed a conflict waiver. The suit also alleges the lawyers took 5 percent from the deals they negotiated but that Wilson never agreed to that fee.
Wilson’s lawsuit also claims the contract violates the California labor code’s seven-year statute, and that the deal should be voidable and ceased as of May 18, 2019. “Wilson’s seven years have run,” the suit said. “MBK’s attempts to thwart this important and fundamental California public policy should not be condoned.”
That seven-year statute is itself a hot-button item in the music industry. While most workers in California are protected from personal service agreements from lasting more than seven years, there’s an exception specifically for musicians, with record labels entitled to sue for damages if an artist walks from their deal after seven years and still owes the label undelivered albums. The previously introduced FAIR Act seeks to end that exclusion and faces a vote from California’s senate this week.
As the suit notes, along with her first album, H.E.R.’s contract included five more album options, and she “recorded numerous albums, EPs, and singles, pursuant to the Agreement. The majority of those were recorded in California.” It’s unclear whether those releases fulfilled her label agreement.
The contract “has significantly limited Wilson’s employment rights,” the suit reads. “Since May 19, 2011, MBK has exclusively owned her services as a recording artist and has exclusively owned the right to exploit her name and likeness for her recordings under the Agreement. Wilson has not been free to provide her recording services except as permitted or dictated by MBK.”
Robinson and MBK didn’t immediately respond to request for comment, nor did RCA Records, who distributes H.E.R.’s music. It isn’t clear how the lawsuit could affect MBK’s status managing the musician.
H.E.R. is asking for the court to officially acknowledge that her contract violates the labor code and that it cannot be enforced alongside lawsuit costs and past monies she’s claimed she’s owed.