Jack White’s “cabinet of wonder” has opened up a dispute about who owns its contents.
In November, the former White Stripe’s Third Man Records joined forces with John Fahey’s Revenant Records to release The Rise & Fall of Paramount Records, Volume One (1917-27). Including 800 digital tracks and six vinyl LPs, this massive, wood-encased set celebrates the discography of Wisconsin’s Paramount label, famous for its so-called “race records.” Now, a Louisiana nonprofit has said the Paramount recordings weren’t Third Man and Revenant’s to reissue without permission.
According to New Orleans’ OffBeat, Dixieland jazz musician Lars Edegran of the George H. Buck Jr. (GHB) Jazz Foundation says the group owns the copyright to almost 800 songs in the Paramount box set. Edegran reportedly said the late Buck, who ran a number of jazz labels, bought the ’20s-era by Ma Rainey and others in 1970. The seller, per Edegran, was a Chicago man named John Steiner, who himself bought Paramount from its original owners. “There are documents for both of these transactions,” Edegran is quoted as saying in a statement.
According to Dean Blackwood, the co-founder of Revenant Records, the GHB Jazz Foundation hasn’t offered proof of ownership. “We informed the Foundation that we would gladly come to an agreement with them if they could prove ownership of the recordings,” Blackwood said in an emailed statement. “To date, they haven’t produced anything that proves ownership. And although there is a more than 50-year history of labels large and small reissuing this material without their involvement, we remain open to discussions with them if they can prove ownership of the recordings.” A rep for Third Man had no immediate comment beyond the statement.
A second volume of the Paramount Records box set is set for a November 2014 release. In the meantime, Edegran is reportedly taking legal steps for the benefit of the foundation. He told OffBeat that Paramount material has previously been released under license agreements, and that while “a number of small labels” have put out unlicensed Paramount records, the Third Man/Revenant box set is on a whole other scale.
Jason Koransky, a Chicago-based copyright lawyer, told OffBeat the nonprofit probably needs to prove it owns the material and then refute the claim that others have been releasing the songs uncontested all these years. The idea is the foundation has to have been maintaining its ownership. As difficult as it was to close Pandora’s box, after all, no one disputed that it was Pandora’s.