Photo Credit: Mali Maeder
Twenty-eight years after its release, Tupac’s iconic track ‘Dear Mama’ becomes the subject of a copyright infringement lawsuit.
The late Tupac Shakur’s legendary hit, “Dear Mama,” has become the subject of a copyright infringement lawsuit, 28 years after its release. Terence Thomas, known as Master Tee, credited as a producer on the track, alleges that producer Tony D. Pizzaro conspired with executives at Interscope Records and its parent company Universal Music Group (UMG) to obscure his role in creating the track and deprive him of his publishing and master recording copyrights.
Alongside Pizarro, Interscope, and UMG, the lawsuit names The Walt Disney Company, Hulu, Fox Entertainment, FX Networks, NBC Universal, and El Matador for their involvement in the docuseries of the same name. Series directors Allen and Albert Hughes are also named as a defendant, as well as Joshua’s Dream Music, the publishing company for the estate of Tupac Shakur.
Released in 1995, “Dear Mama” was the lead single from Me Against the World, the third studio album by Tupac Shakur under the name 2Pac. Now a hip-hop classic, “Dear Mama” is one of only three hip-hop songs to be inducted into the Library of Congress. There, it has been described as “a moving and eloquent homage to both the murdered rapper’s own mother and all mothers struggling to maintain a family in the face of addiction, poverty, and societal indifference.”
Public interest in the song was renewed this year between the release of the five-part Hulu docuseries, “Dear Mama,” as well as the recent breaks in the case surrounding Tupac’s murder.
“While defendants will invariably use the passage of time to attempt a defense, it is noteworthy that only this year has the prime suspect in 2Pac’s 1996 murder been arrested,” reads the complaint. “Master Tee did not until very recently appreciate that the royalties which he was deriving from BMI were actually much less than he should have been receiving had his creative work been credited as it should have been from the outset.”
The lawsuit states that Master Tee, who has worked as a New York City bus driver for the past 26 years, is “not a sophisticated business person,” and was not aware that he should receive publishing royalties in addition to his producer royalties, until he saw the “Dear Mama” docuseries earlier this year.
The complaint argues that the three-year limit on filing a copyright infringement claim has not yet run out in this case, as Master Tee only learned of the alleged infringement this year. That argument has sometimes been accepted by US federal appeals courts in the past.
Master Tee’s involvement in the song’s creation is further asserted to in a 1996 interview pointed to in the filing, in which Tupac says “Master Tee gave me the beat.” The complaint also includes a handwritten note (allegedly written by Tupac) that lists Master Tee among the song’s producers, as well as a link to the song’s demo, which includes Master Tee’s name on a producer tag at the beginning.
“While 2Pac was incarcerated and without initial consent from 2Pac, and without ever receiving any consent from Master Tee, Pizarro took the master recording of ‘Dear Mama’ and made unilateral changes at the bequest of Interscope Records, which Pizarro intended would eliminate Master Tee’s legitimate ownership of copyright,” alleges the filing.
Further, the complaint asserts that the remixed tape reels generated by Pizarro and dated July 1994 were derived from and are the “slave versions of the original 2 inch master tape” created in 1993 by 2Pac and Master Tee.
The lawsuit seeks a declaration from the judge that Master Tee is a co-writer and co-publisher on the track, as well as an injunction preventing the defendants from collecting royalties until the matter is settled. The filing also seeks an accounting of the money Master Tee is allegedly owned, plus damages and other charges.