The Guardian breaks the story today that Larry Heard and Robert Owens — two Chicago house music legends, individually and together as Fingers, Inc — have wrested back control over several of their earliest releases from Chicago house label Trax Records.

Speaking with the Guardian’s Lauren Martin, Robert Owens says the settlement “gives me peace knowing there is a clear road moving forward. I’ve seen the destruction that often occurs in this music industry, so I feel blessed and grateful.”

5 Mag broke the story on June 25 2020 that Larry Heard and Robert Owens were filing a multi-million dollar copyright infringement suit against Trax Records and Rachael Cain. The suit alleged that Trax committed copyright infringement for tracks including “Can You Feel It,” “Washing Machine,” “Beyond The Clouds,” “Bring Down The Walls,” “Donnie,” “Distant Planet” and “Never No More Lonely.”

The initial complaint claimed the case was an “all-too-familiar story of the early days of the music industry”:

“Talented, but unrepresented, musicians hungry for their first break were lulled into a business relationship with an unscrupulous record company that made promises it never intended to keep and masqueraded as paternalistic benefactors for those artists – like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. … [Trax] built its catalogue by taking advantage of the unsophisticated but creative house-music artists and songwriters by having them sign away their copyrights for paltry amounts of money up front and promises of continued royalties throughout the life of the copyrights.”


The complaint actually quoted from 5 Mag’s obituary for Trax founder Larry Sherman, which in turn referenced our past reporting on the issue from artists including Jamie Principle, Frankie Knuckles, Adonis and Marshall Jefferson — all Chicago house music pioneers who claimed Trax Records took advantage of them:

“Many of 5 Mag’s early profiles of some of Chicago House Music’s legends outlined the feeling by the then-young, often black artists of exploitation. Jamie Principle told 5 Mag in 2011 that he never had a contract of any kind with Trax, while DJ Pierre of Phuture, whose Acid Tracks was released on Trax, claimed he never received any royalties at all from the label for what became one of the best-selling tracks of all time.”


Frankie Knuckles and Jamie Principle even went so far as to re-record several of their records previously released by Trax and urged everyone interested in their classic material to buy these instead.

The case took over two years of litigation without coming to trial (including Trax Records’ attempts to dismiss the complaint and separate Cain from the case) before “the parties amicably resolved their disputes,” attorney Robert S Meloni told the Guardian.

Meloni told the Guardian that his investigation revealed that “Cain and Trax were impecunious and unable to pay money damages.”

Multiple artists have informed 5 Mag off the record that they intend to follow in Heard and Owens’ footsteps. TaP Music Publishing’s Anna Neville advised artists in a similar situation to “reach out to us – our job is to help nurture, protect and develop songwriters and ensure they are paid fairly for their work.”

Read more from Heard & Owens in the excellent Guardian story on the conclusion of Heard & Owens vs. Trax.

Artwork from Another Side, the Fingers Inc album released by Jack Trax (no relation).