It didn't take long for everyone involved in the Rebecca Black story to start squabbling. Black – whose song "Friday" hit Number 38 on Billboard's digital singles chart this week – and her mother, Georgina Marquez Kelly, are accusing Ark Music Factory, which produced "Friday," of copyright infringement and unlawful exploitation of publicity rights.
A March 29 letter from Black and Marquez Kelly's lawyer Brian Schall to Ark Music Factory obtained by Rolling Stone alleges that Ark has failed to provide Black with the master recordings of her song and video; has been exploiting her likeness and her song on YouTube, iTunes, Amazon and Ark's website; created an unauthorized "Friday" ringtone; and has been advertising Black as an exclusive Ark recording artist on its website.
In an interview with Rolling Stone, Ark Music Factory founder Patrice Wilson denied most of the allegations in the letter. "I have met with Rebecca Black's mom and everything is fine," he said. "She will get the masters and the song. They can have it all."
Marquez Kelly paid Ark $4,000 (not $2,000, as has been widely reported) to produce the song, and according to Schall's letter, the agreement that she signed with Ark in November stipulates that Black has 100 percent ownership and control of "Friday," including the master recording and the music video.
Black shot the video for "Friday" in January, and the Ark team finished it a few weeks later. It was uploaded to YouTube on February 10th, but it only had around 4,000 views until it was posted on comedian Daniel Tosh's Tosh.O Comedy Central blog on March 11th, and comedian Michael J. Nelson tweeted about it. Overnight, it had gotten over 200,000 views, and by March 15th, it had over five million views on YouTube. And after her Good Morning America appearance on March 18th, she had evolved from a meme to a celebrity.
"She's not our exclusive artist," said Wilson. "Once an artist meets with us and once they blow up, they have a choice to retain us or move on if they can. Rebecca is now signed with someone else." Wilson added that he will remove Black from the Ark Music Factory website.
But Ark's lawyer, Barry Rothman, cast doubt on the validity of the November agreement. "The agreement was not court-approved," Rothman said. "They say they own the composition. Nothing could be further from the truth. If they go forward and license it or attempt to copyright it in their name, that would be copyright infringement and we'd act accordingly under the circumstances."
He added: "We're not prepared to engage them in producing documents just because they want them, without a court order or litigation. We'd like to see Rebecca Black's career go forward and we're trying to accomplish that in the context of working through the legalities."
Wilson's Ark Music Factory partner Clarence Jey contended that Ark did act as a record label for Black, and distributed and promoted her with her mother's consent – until it became clear that Black was going to make actual money.
"Now they are turning it around and saying they were exploited, but clearly that is not the case when they were thanking me for forwarding them all the interviews with Rebecca and all the positive comments from YouTube," said Jey. "I was calling Australia on my cell phone pretending to be Rebecca's agent and setting up radio interviews for Rebecca while Georgina was right next to me. If she thought I was exploiting this, she could have said it."
"Georgina's trying to get the rights to things she doesn't have the rights to," said Ark Creative Director Barry Wayne.
Neither Marquez Kelly nor Schall returned calls for comment.
Black is the first real success to come out of the Los Angeles-based Ark, whose website was registered in August 2010 by Wilson. Ark's biggest successes other than Black are the singer Alana Lee Hamilton's "Butterflies," which has close to six million YouTube views, and Kaya Rosenthal's "Can't Get You Out of My Mind," which has 1.7 million YouTube views.
"Suddenly, everyone is seeing big dollars and everyone is getting greedy and it sucks," said Jey, who claims that his team wrote the music and lyrics to "Friday." "My team just needs to be looked after to some extent. They need to be compensated for something." He argued that Black should own the master recording for her vocals, but that Ark should have copyright for the song and composition. "We gave Rebecca 10 percent of the publishing, but she didn't even write a lyric. Good Morning America came over, I paid $400 for the make up artist and no one even thanked me for that."
And now it seems as though Ark's success may be its undoing. Wilson recently hired his own lawyer, and Jey alleges that Wilson won't give him access to the website. "Yesterday we were supposed to have a meeting at my attorney's place. I didn't hear from him all day. He sent me a text message late at night saying, 'Sorry, brother, I've had a busy day.' In the meantime he's going around saying I'm not with Ark."