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Gary Younge
Record giant's £82m rap for blocking disc

A federal court in New York found that Island Def Jam, a subsidiary of Universal Music Group, which is owned by the French company Vivendi Universal, used bad business practices in attempting to block the completion of an early recording by Ja Rule.

The case, which is rare since most recording companies settle their disputes out of court, has exposed the predatory culture of the rap industry and the huge sums of money at stake.

The jury awarded TVT $24m in compensatory damages and $108m in punitive damages against Def Jam, which said it would appeal.

A TVT lawyer called Def Jam "bullies" who had "finally got caught".

The case centred on an album which included early work done by Ja Rule, whose real name is Jeffrey Atkins, when he was the member of a relatively unknown hip-hop group called Cash Money Click, which faded away after one member was jailed.

TVT then dropped Ja Rule, who signed an exclusive agreement with Def Jam records five years later, and became an international star producing three hit albums.

In 2001 TVT decided to revive Cash Money Click with an album which featured new material from Ja Rule, but because of Ja Rule's exclusive contract it needed Def Jam's approval.

TVT's president, Steve Gottlieb, was led to believe that he had a profit-sharing deal with Def Jam for the album, and spent a considerable sum promoting it.

Meanwhile Def Jam's chief executive, Lyor Cohen, put the agreement on hold, then, at a casual meeting, refused Mr Gottlieb permission to release the album.

A few days after Mr Gottlieb received official confirmation that Def Jam would not cooperate he brought a case in the civil court.

Before the verdict Mr Cohen said the case had placed him in "the nastiest, most negative place I've been in a very long time". On Tuesday his lawyers said: "We do not believe that [the ruling] is supported by the facts or the law."

Mr Gottlieb said: "I see this verdict as vindication for independent businessmen in every field."

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