Redferns / Getty Images
Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to approve UMG's appeal to overturn the verdict originally handed down by a Lower Ninth Circuit Court, allotting Em and his production team, F.B.T. Productions, a larger chunk of digital profits.
In light of this new look at copyright laws as they relate to digital sales, the James estate is seeking to increase their digital royalties which stand at only 12 to 20 percent for copyright owners, far less than the 50 percent they receive from physical album sales.
According to the estate, UMG is stiffing artists, producers and writers out of money by utilizing "unfair tactics and strategies in its dealing with royalty participants to minimize its exposure from unlawful conduct."
Jeff Jampo, manager of James' estate said that the Eminem ruling is a key piece of evidence in their case. "In assessing and watching the Eminem case, the original judge found for the production company and declared these were indeed licenses, and said it's a matter of law unless there's specific language in the contract to address this," James told Billboard. "Many entertainment industry attorneys have been lobbying about this issue for years."
UMG however will not give up without a fight, classifying James' suit as holding no legal merit. "The complaint filed by the Estate of Rick James suffers from many infirmities," said the company in a statement. "Not the least of which is that the claims asserted are not appropriate for class treatment. We intend to vigorously defend against it."
This lawsuit could mean big bucks for artists locked in contracts that allow them a larger percentage of online sales, including iTunes, cell phone companies, and licensing income from other parties.
Rick James died of heart failure in 2004 at the age of 56. He was best known for pioneering "punk-funk" with hits like 'Give It to Me Baby,' 'Fire and Desire' and 'Super Freak,' the latter which was sampled in MC Hammer's 'U Can't Touch This,' and won James his only Grammy.
Watch Rick James' 'Super Freak'