Just when it seemed that Courtney Love was maintaining a long, uncharacteristically low profile, the take-no-prisoners grande dame of grunge has exploded into activity.
In one day, Love resolved to sue her record label, Universal, to get out of pending contractual obligations; announced that she intends to create a union for recording artists; said she wants unreleased Nirvana recordings to come out on Epitaph Records; and revealed plans for an all-star, all-women punk band.
On Wednesday, Love filed a countersuit against the Universal Music Group, which sued Love in January 2000, claiming she was backing out of her contract before delivering all of the albums it required. Love claims major labels, acting together as an illegal trust, force artists to sign unfair contracts that give the labels the upper hand while leaving artists little means by which to collect what they have earned.
Standard recording contracts typically require, Love laywer A. Barry Cappello said, "unconscionable, impossible-to-perform" duties put "upon recording artists with the full knowledge that the artists have no choice except to sign them if they want access to the marketing campaigns that only a major label can provide."
Love and her attorney are also targeting the industry's 1987 amendment of California Labor Code 2855, known as the "De Havilland Law." The 56-year-old labor code, which allows the termination of contracts between creative artists and entertainment companies after seven years, was amended to allow record labels to sue artists for damages if they fail to fulfill their contracts. When fighting for the amendment, the record industry claimed that heavy investments in the development and marketing of artists required long-term contracts in order to recoup those expenses.
In her statement, Love said, "record companies lied in 1987 to convince the California legislature that recording artists should be indentured servants at no pay for their entire careers, even though writers, directors, actors, athletes and anyone else in the arts is able to exercise their rights under the 'De Havilland Law.'"
Should Love prevail, the relationship between artists and record labels could fundamentally change, and the Big Five labels' purported stranglehold over the business workings of artists could be weakened.
Love and Cappello could not be reached for comment; Universal had no comment at press time.
A Universal spokesperson described Love's contract to the Los Angeles Times as a "fair, industry-standard agreement" that was "willingly" signed. Universal also maintains, in legal papers, that Love's lawsuit is a "meritless, inflammatory diatribe" designed to attract media attention.
Universal's suit against Love was filed after she announced Hole were leaving their label, Geffen, despite only finishing two records of a five-album deal. In announcing her departure, Love said the Geffen Records that Hole signed to is not, as far as she is concerned, the same as the one that exists now. David Geffen sold his label to the Matsushita corporation in 1991, which then sold Geffen Records and all the other labels under the MCA umbrella to the Canadian liquor company Seagrams in 1998. Last year Seagrams sold its entertainment holdings to Vivendi, a French waste-management/communications corporation.
In another statement released Wednesday, Love accused Universal of threatening her unless she agrees to their terms, she said, "no record of mine or of Nirvana's will ever see the light of day."
Love controls the catalog of Nirvana, who were led by her late husband, Kurt Cobain. "There are amazing songs that Kurt wrote and recorded that no one has ever heard. I can't wait to put these recordings out," she said. "Of course, Universal had also threatened to destroy the Nirvana catalog by not releasing these unheard songs."
She said she hopes Epitaph Records will consider releasing the songs, but so far Epitaph has only agreed to help her assemble a "femme-punk" supergroup and fund work on her next album while she wages war with Universal. An Epitaph spokesperson could not provide any further details.
Love also said she wishes to start a union for recording artists one that would protect the their interests better than existing musicians unions. She accused the Recording Industry Association of America, the music industry's lobbying organization, of discouraging past efforts to establish strong unions.
"I'm driven by the misfortune of other artists who don't have my privilege and ability. Beyond protecting my music and Kurt's music and Kurt's family, I want to protect and create opportunity for other artists," Love said in her statement.