You Got Served: The Top 10 Legal Battles in Rock History
Ten years ago last week, one of the most vicious legal battles in rock history took another ugly turn. Ex-Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic and drummer Dave Grohl found themselves in King County Superior Court over a dispute with Kurt Cobain's widow, Courtney Love, over the band's considerable royalties.
Grohl and Novoselic asked the court to prove Courtney Love was mentally stable, claiming a contract was invalid as Courtney was ultra-mega smacked-out at the time it was signed. Love had already blocked Grohl and Novoselic from releasing the band's final track, "You Know You're Right," as part of a commemorative box set the previous year as well as sued them for control of Nirvana's legacy.
Years after the legal dispute was settled and "You Know You're Right" hit the airwaves, the bad blood remains. Earlier this month, Love took to Twitter to accuse Grohl of hitting on her daughter, Frances Bean, a claim which both denied with a pained sigh.
The battle over Nirvana's legacy was hardly the first twisted legal dispute in rock history. Rock and roll is an ego-driven vocation with a lot of money on the line for superstar performers and their handlers alike.
It's inevitable that some squabbling over credit and royalties emerges from time to time. Some battles take the bitterness to the next level, though. Here are ten of the most nasty and notorious disputes in the annals of popular music.
10. Prince vs. Warner Bros.: Most people I know would be pretty content with a $100 million contract, as Prince did with Warner Bros. in 1992. Prince ain't most people. It wasn't about the money for him -- the label wanted Prince to adhere to the established early-'90s album cycle of promotion, refusing to release reams of music all willy-nilly like he wanted. Rumors swirled that Warners was after his master tapes, too.
Prince didn't handle the dispute like a lawyer -- he's Prince! Instead, he handled things like an artist. First, he took to appearing in public with "SLAVE" written on his face. Then he disowned the name "Prince" entirely, adopted a symbol as his moniker, and refused to record any new material for the label, insisting instead on fulfilling his deal with songs culled from his extensive unreleased repertoire. The relationship seemed to be going off the deep end.
Surprise! They settled in 1994. Prince delivered two more albums for Warner Bros. before celebrating his divorce by re-adopting his own name and releasing the triple-disc Emancipation through EMI-Capitol.
9. Virgin vs. 30 Seconds to Mars: Disputes between bands and their record labels are nothing new; tricky accounting practices have made the business of paying royalties a contentious issue between artists and labels for decades.
Still, it was a pretty bold step for Virgin Records to sue Jared Leto-fronted radio rockers 30 Seconds to Mars for $30 million in 2008 (that's one million for every second!) for breach of contract when the band opted not to deliver a third album to the label in 2008.
Virgin claimed the band was on the hook for a five-album deal, while Leto and the boys claimed they were exercising their right under California law to terminate their contract after seven years, protesting that they'd never seen a dime from the label for more than 2 million records sold.
The litigation got ugly fast, but not so nasty that a deal couldn't be struck. The suit was settled in 2009, and, incredibly, 30 Seconds to Mars inked a new album contract with Virgin soon after.
8. Tony Iommi vs. Ozzy Osbourne: Metal icons Tony Iommi and Ozzy Osbourne have always had a contentious relationship, dating back to their school days by some accounts. The most famous bit of acrimony between the two centered around Ozzy's sacking from Black Sabbath in 1979. The split began a longstanding professional rivalry that has erupted into legal action at various times over the years.
Most recently, Osbourne sued Iommi in 2009, alleging that the guitarist had illegally taken sole control of the Black Sabbath name and cost Ozzy lost profits from merchandise in the process. The pair settled and began making plans for Sabbath reunion shows. Nevertheless, it's doubtful these two are done sparring over the band's legacy for good.