Breaking Down Lil Wayne's Huge New Lawsuit Against Universal Music Group

Weezy's suing Universal for something also involving Cash Money and Drake? We bring some sanity to the legal madness.
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Weezy's suing Universal for something also involving Cash Money and Drake? We bring some sanity to the legal madness.

Chances are that if you're reading DJBooth you're interested in more than just the music, you're also interested in the the music industry. And if you're interested in the music industry chances are that you've seen some headlines about a new lawsuit from Lil Wayne against Universal Music Group and SoundExchange. 

But unless you're fresh off passing the bar, odds are that you're pretty confused by this shit because this shit is super confusing. In addition to the usual lawyer double-speak we're dealing with multiple companies within companies, splits, royalties and all sorts of other complications. That's where I come in, a guy who some thought wouldn't graduate high school. I'm here to break this thing down into some bite size chunks we can all understand.

Trust me, I'm a lawyer blogger. 

Remind Me, How Did the Young Money/Cash Money Thing Work Again? 

Starting with the basics, Young Money launched under Cash Money in 2003, and I use the word "under" on purpose. The important thing to understand is that this was not a two-way partnership. Cash Money would take some of the profits generated by Young Money, but Young Money couldn't touch any of Cash Money' money. In some ways they were closely linked, but in other ways completely separate. 

Think about it like if you moved into a new place and you brought in your flat screen TV for you and your roommate. You and your roommate might split the Netflix bill 50/50, but that wouldn't mean your roommate owns 50 percent of your TV. You'd always be the one with the most power, and if your roommate tried to challenge you on that, you'd be like, "Nah, don't get it twisted, we're in it together on the Netflix subscription, but this is 100% my TV." (In this case Cash Money is the roomate with the TV.)

More specifically, as we learned in the original lawsuit, there was supposed to be a 51% to 49% split between Cash Money (Birdman) and Young Money (Lil Wayne) on all profits, fees and copyrights for Young Money business. So for every dollar that a Young Money artist (like Drake, Nicki or say Lil Twist) brought in, Lil Wayne would get $.49 cents and Birdman would get $.51 cents. Wayne first sued Birdman because (surprise) he alleges that Birdman wasn't actually paying him his $.49 cents.   

How Does Universal Music Group Fit Into This?

Cash Money can do a lot, but even they don't have the power to do things like manufacture CDs and ship those CDs to stores, have an entire marketing department capable of promoting an album internationally, etc. So long before Young Money existed, 1998 to be exact, Cash Moneysigned a historic deal with Universal Music Group (UMG) where UMG would advance them a boatload of money and in exchange for their services would take a 20% cut of Cash Money profits. And since Young Money was created under Cash Money, they were automatically under Universal as well. 

Basically, Universal's the one who really owns the TV. 

OK, Got It. So Why Is Universal Being Sued?

Ok, so let's return to the ways that Young Money and Cash Money are linked but also separate. What Wayne is alleging is that Cash Money and Universal entered into a side agreement where instead of paying Young Money the 49% they deserve for profits generated by Young Money artists, they instead used that money to pay off Cash Money's debts.

Put in layman's terms, Weezy's saying, "Hey, I don't get any of Cash Money's profits and I'm also not responsible for their debts. Don't take my shit to pay their shit."

Not in layman's terms, here's how the lawyers said the same thing: 

"With Universal’s knowledge of Lil Wayne’s rights to partial ownership and profits from those artists, Universal and Cash Money entered into a series of agreements which, among other things, diverted Lil Wayne’s substantial profits to repay debts of Cash Money. As a result, 100% of the profits that should have been paid to Lil Wayne as a result of his ownership of Drake, Nicki Minaj and Tyga records have been seized by Universal to repay debts that were neither incurred by nor were the obligations of Lil Wayne."

And What's This About Sound Exchange?

The lawsuit also names SoundExchange, an organization that collects royalties for artists from a wide range of sources. For example, we've been talking a lot about how much Spotify pays artists, well SoundExchange is the one actually tracking and collecting that money from Spotify because for any large artist or label to deal with that bureaucracy themselves would be a nightmare.

Wayne's also alleging that instead of SoundExchange paying him his rightful 49%, they're also just funneling all that money straight to Universal and Cash Money.  

In Conclusion

This isn't Birdman just rubbing his hands together, Lil Wayne's now going after one of the largest media companies on the planet and they have a squad of lawyers on deck for exactly such an occasion. Those lawyers are already going to work: "We don't intend to dignify this with further public comment except to say that we will vigorously contest it and that the merits of our case will carry the day.”

It's entirely possible that this case could drag out for another year or more, and in all that time Wayne will likely still be stuck. Free Weezy indeed.     

By Nathan S, the managing editor of DJBooth and a hip-hop writer. His beard is awesome. This is his Twitter. Image via Flickr.