Published May 05, 2014Searching for Sugar Man star Sixto Rodriguez already has an incredible story, having languished in obscurity in North America while achieving fame — without his knowledge — in South Africa and now finally here at home decades later. Now, the singer's journey has got even more unusual thanks to a newly launched lawsuit involving the rights to his music.
As the Hollywood Reporter reports, the lawsuit was filed Friday (May 2) in Michigan federal court. According to the suit, Rodriguez signed an exclusive agreement with Harry Balk's Gomba Music in the '60s. Allegedly, however, another music exec named Clarence Avant, who was featured in Searching for Sugar Man, concocted a scheme to fraudulently sign Rodriguez despite the pre-existing contract.
The papers claim, "Upon learning that Sixto Rodriguez was signed to Gomba, however, and unable to contractually enter into a songwriter agreement with Avant, and after consulting his attorneys, Avant concocted a scheme to fraudulently conceal the writing of compositions by Sixto Rodriguez. Under this fraudulent scheme, compositions written by Rodriguez would falsely, fraudulently, and wrongly be credited and attributed to other individuals with whom Gomba had no agreements."
This included a contract with "Jesus Rodriguez," apparently purporting to be Sixto's brother.
The intent was to suggest that the songs were written by someone else so as to bypass the musician's agreement with Gomba. By allegedly crediting Rodriguez's compositions to other people, Avant was able to release his 1970 album Cold Fact on his Sussex Records.
The suit doesn't blame Rodriguez, saying that the songwriter was "tricked... into breaching that contract." It accuses Avant of violating Balk's copyright ownership over Rodriguez's songs. Avant is also being sued for "fraudulent concealment and tortious interference" with Rodriguez's first writing deal.
The suit is filled with legalese, but it can be read here. It was filed in Michigan court on May 2, and it remains to be seen who rightfully owns Rodriguez's catalogue.