Ora signed the contract in 2008 when she was 18 and claims that she has been “orphaned” from Jay Z’s company as it has changed personnel and expanded its business ventures. The suit makes reference to Roc Nation’s sports agency and the Jay Z-helmed streaming service Tidal, ultimately calling the company a “diminished” label with “only a handful of admittedly worthy heritage superstar artists.”
Furthermore, the suit says Ora has been “self-funding her promotional television appearances, recording costs and other video projects.” She also allegedly remains tethered to a distribution deal at Sony that Roc Nation has neglected since signing a new deal with Universal in 2013.
A representative for Ora declined to comment. Reps for Roc Nation and Jay Z did not immediately return requests for comment.
The crux of Ora’s case rests on California’s “seven-year rule,” a section of the state’s labor code that stipulates a court cannot enforce a personal service contract after seven calendar years from when the deal began.
The current interpretation stems from a landmark 1944 case involving actress Olivia de Havilland, who claimed Warner Bros. was unfairly extending her contract, according to THR. The movie studios had long argued that the “seven-year rule” applied to days the performer actually worked, and not for example, time in between projects, holidays or weekends, essentially allowing them to significantly expand the length of a contract. The California Court of Appeal, however, ruled in favor of de Havilland, established the specific calendar year precedent and delivered a severe blow to the old studio system.
Musicians have had far less luck invoking the “seven-year rule” in contract disputes. After Olivia Newton-John successfully sued MCA Records for violating the law in the late Seventies, THR reports that the recording industry lobbied the California legislature to establish rules allowing labels to sue artists for “lost profits” if they didn’t fulfill album commitments or other components of their contract.
As such, most record industry disputes involving the “seven-year rule” have ended in a settlement or a renegotiated deal. While Ora’s contract includes the option of up to five albums, a “pay or play” provision and other limitations, her case is unique in that she argues she has only been allowed to release one album — 2012’s Ora — despite having recorded enough music to comprise several more.