Frank Ocean has filed a lawsuit against his former producer Om’Mas Keith and his corporation Analog Genius, accusing Keith of wrongfully claiming authorship for several songs on Ocean’s 2016 album Blonde. The suit alleges that Keith orally agreed to produce the album on a work-for-hire basis at a flat fee with no co-writing credits, and then refused to sign a draft agreement in 2014 confirming this role. Funny enough, Keith also allegedly refused to acknowledge his absence of songwriting responsibility for the album’s covers of the Isley Brothers and Buddy Ross.
Keith had previously worked with Ocean on his first album, Channel Orange (2012), for which the signed agreement was identical to the Blonde oral agreement. When Ocean’s representatives revived discussions about the Blonde recordings in 2016, Keith continued to refuse the deal’s acknowledgement that he did not act as a writer. He also denied detailing his contributions to the compositions and went on to file ASCAP registrations for 11 tracks: “Be Yourself,” “Futura Free,” “Godspeed,” “Ivy,” “Nights,” “Nikes,” “Pink + White,” “Pretty Sweet,” “Skyline To,” “Solo,” and “White Ferrari.” Keith is consequently listed as a writer for these songs on ASCAP’s ACE Repertory database. The extent to which he is claiming an ownership percentage is unclear.
The specifics for determining songwriting credits vary widely based on the artist(s) and the particular agreement they have with collaborators. Some groups, like Coldplay, split credits evenly, even if one member predominantly writes the musical or lyrical content. Others, like the Rolling Stones, split credits between select members and pay contributors on a for-hire basis. A dispute between Sarah McLachlan and her producer in 2000 led to an important precedent in the Canadian courts: artist and producer must provide proof of mutual intent to co-write songs, along with proof that the producer did contribute to the songwriting. In Ocean and Keith’s case, that mutual intent appears to have been lacking or unclear. Determining songwriting credit early on in the track’s life is crucial for avoiding misinterpretations and legal action down the road.
Ocean is seeking that Keith be removed from the songwriting credits on ASCAP, that an injunction be filed to prevent him from claiming further co-writing credits for those tracks, and that he declares he was not involved in writing the songs. Ocean is asking no specific damages outside of legal fees and relief deemed appropriate by the court.