California rock outfit Avenged Sevenfold have been sued by their label, Warner Bros. Records, after attempting to break their as-yet-unfulfilled contract by citing California’s “seven-year rule,” Billboard reports.
Avenged Sevenfold have released four out of the five albums mandated by their deal, which was signed in 2004. Since then, according to a statement by the band’s lawyer, Howard E. King, the label has undergone “multiple regime changes that led to dramatic turnover at every level of the company, to the point where no one on the current A&R staff has even a nodding relationship with the band.”
The “seven-year rule” the band has invoked is a section of the California labor code that stipulates a court cannot enforce a personal service contract after seven calendar years from when the deal began.
But Warner Bros., in their breach-of-contract suit, dismissed Avenged Sevenfold’s invocation of the rule as unlawful and have demanded a trial in order to rule it out. The label is also seeking compensatory damages, claiming they have invested a large amount of money in Avenged Sevenfold’s future releases, which include a final studio LP and a CD/DVD live album Warner said it has already funded.
Avenged Sevenfold and Warner reportedly tried to renegotiate last fall, but despite a failure to secure a new deal, the label said they were led to believe the current contract would be adhered to. They called the opt-out unfair and a breach of good faith and fair dealing.
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Avenged Sevenfold remains strong on the album charts, with their previous two LPs, 2013’s Hail to the King and 2010’s Nightmare, both debuting atop the Billboard 200. The band’s last five albums have all sold over 500,000 copies, while their 2003 Warner debut, City of Evil has sold over a million.
According to King, the band is already on the market for a new label, saying, “[Avenged Sevenfold] has every expectation that it will forge the success and personal relationships with them that it once had with Warner Bros.”
This is the second major music industry case in recent months to invoke the “seven-year rule,” following Rita Ora’s attempt to leave Jay Z’s Roc Nation. Ora similarly claimed that personnel changes at the label, as well as Roc Nation’s expanding business ventures (such as Tidal and its sports agency), have left her “orphaned” at the company.
Per The Hollywood Reporter, the current calendar-year interpretation of the “seven-year rule” dates back to a 1944 case involving Olivia de Havilland. The actress successfully sued Warner Bros. for unfairly extending her contract by claiming the law only applied to days the performer actually worked, and not, for example, time in between projects, holidays or weekends.
While the ruling delivered a blow to the old studio system, musicians have had far less luck invoking the “seven-year rule” in contract disputes. In the Seventies — after Olivia Newton John used it to leave MCA Records — the record industry successfully lobbied the California legislature to establish rules that allowed them to sue artists for “lost profits” if they didn’t fulfill album commitments or other components of their contract.