In 1943, Warner Bros. was sued, and in 2016, history is repeating itself. Granted, the stories are very different. The 1943 suit was against the Warner Bros. studio (the label didn’t start until 1958), and it was actress Olivia de Havilland (Gone With the Wind) that sued the film studio to be released from her contract after seven years. She won (and is still alive today at 100!), and since then, the “seven year law” in California is known as “the de Havilland Law.” This year, it was Avenged Sevenfold who sued Warner, and it’s currently playing out.
Billboard points out that if the two sides actually goes to trial, it can have a permanent effect on the music industry. They say “if,” because all of the time artists sue their labels to leave, a settlement is reached before the case actually does go to trial. Avenges Sevenfold’s lawyer Howard King says he’s never seen a trial determine charges for unreleased albums. As we know, the band signed with Capitol, surprise-releasing The Stage on October 28th. While it’s sold upwards of 120,000 albums so far, The band’s first two Warner Bros. albums have sold more than a million each, and 2013’s Hail to the King has sold 646,000 copies so far. Warner Bros. has released a two-disc best-of, which singer M. Shadows says is an effort to undermine their new album.
So why haven’t any cases gone to trial? Depending on how a ruling turned out, labels and managers could take a big hit, and it would set a precedent that could financially cripple them in the future. As for Warner, they threw some shade in a press release, saying they weren’t commenting, as it was an ongoing legal matter, but “we’re proud of our partnership with Avenged Sevenfold, including that band’s two No. 1s on the Billboard 200 chart.” It’ll be interesting to watch to see if the case goes to trial.