James Brown Family Feud: Inside a 12-Year Fight Over Bigamy, DNA Tests and Copyright Law

James Brown Family Feud: Inside a 12-Year Fight Over Bigamy, DNA Tests and Copyright Law


The Godfather of Soul married a lady who was married to a different man, who in flip was married to a few different girls. Now it is as much as a federal courtroom to resolve who will get thousands and thousands in music royalties in a case with large implications for artists and households.

When James Brown, the "Godfather of Soul," died on the age of 73 in 2006, he left behind fairly a legacy — in addition to one hell of a large number. The iconic musician behind such hits as "I Got You (I Feel Good)" and "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" was married on the time of his loss of life to Tomi Rae Hynie. Or was he? Together, Brown and Hynie had a toddler named James Brown II. Or did they?

In the 12 years since Brown's loss of life, such mysteries have haunted a South Carolina probate courtroom tasked with determining how one can divide Brown's property. Hynie and James II have so far been profitable in overcoming challenges to their assertion of being the surviving partner and bonafide son, respectively, which might put them in place to gather an enormous portion of what Brown left behind — an property valued as excessive as $100 million.

But a household feud is hardly over. Earlier this 12 months, 9 youngsters and grandchildren from Brown's earlier marriages filed a brand new lawsuit alleging dishonesty on the a part of Hynie and the directors working the property. This new case offers with progeny of a distinct kind — Brown's copyrights — and has the potential to shift property battles involving well-known songwriters right into a a lot greater area, a federal courtroom, which generally has unique jurisdiction over copyright issues. At stake would be the stability of energy for heirs of authors (maybe regardless of a songwriter's specific needs) in addition to future postmortem dealmaking and administration of probably the most well-known songs in American historical past.

So who’s Tomi Rae Hynie?

A former Janis Joplin impersonator in Las Vegas, she turned a backup singer for Brown and ultimately, in 2001, his fourth spouse. But she had a secret: At the time of the nuptials with Brown, Hynie was already married to a different man, Javed Ahmed, and had been since 1997. Ahmed, in flip, had his personal secret: When he married Hynie, he already was married to at the very least three different girls in Pakistan. He advised her about these wives after the ceremony and disappeared with out consummating the wedding, in response to Hynie. He was solely excited about U.S. citizenship.

Hynie, now 49, obtained her marriage to Ahmed annulled in 2004, however by then her relationship with Brown had turn out to be rocky. That 12 months, Hynie and Brown obtained right into a bodily altercation. The singer was arrested for home assault, which led to a separation. Brown then sought his personal annulment, and she or he countersued for divorce. The query of whether or not the 2 have been actually legally married was not resolved on the time. Months after the separation, Brown and Hynie knowledgeable a courtroom of a settlement whereby she would waive any declare of a standard legislation marriage. Hynie says she then reconciled with Brown they usually lived collectively till his loss of life.

But Hynie wasn't in Brown's will, as a result of he by no means up to date it throughout their relationship. She petitioned to appropriate this upon his demise.

The situation of bigamy upon bigamy partially explains the longevity of the probate case, which has traveled up the appellate circuit, down once more, and up as soon as extra as judges in South Carolina wrestled with the implication of marrying somebody married to another person married to but others. In July, a South Carolina appeals courtroom affirmed a choice that as a result of the state doesn't acknowledge bigamous marriage, Hynie and Ahmed have been by no means actually married. Therefore, Hynie "had no obstacle to her legitimate marriage to Brown," the courtroom dominated.

Meanwhile, there may be the son, James II, who, like his mom, wasn't included in Brown's will. The doubts concerning his lineage stem from phrase that within the 1980s Brown had a vasectomy particularly to keep away from paternity fits — and James II was Brown's solely baby born within the aftermath.

James II proved himself the son after present process a DNA check — twice. There are lingering dangerous emotions about making him go to this point. In a courtroom transient on Sept. 11, a lawyer for the administrator of the James Brown Estate famous that a number of of Brown's different youngsters "have didn’t undergo the probate DNA protocol."

But, in fact, the struggle isn't over. There's continued interesting whereby Brown's different youngsters are arguing that the story of Ahmed's Pakistani wives depends on inadmissible rumour with none discovery on the true information. "We are extraordinarily optimistic that Tomi Rae's spousal standing can be swiftly reversed by the South Carolina Supreme Court as it’s opposite to legislation on so many ranges," says Marc Toberoff, the legal professional now representing 9 heirs of James Brown.

In January, these heirs — Deanna Brown-Thomas, Yamma Brown, Kenisha Brown, Michael D. Brown, Nicole C. Brown, Jeanette Bellinger, Sara Fegan, Ciara Pettit, and Cherquarius Williams — filed a separate criticism in California. The lawsuit has since been moved to South Carolina federal courtroom (Brown was born in Barnwell, South Carolina). Hynie is accused within the swimsuit of getting "launched into a sequence of duplicitous enterprise machinations calculated to deprive Brown's youngsters of their rightful pursuits in Brown's music beneath the Copyright Act."

To perceive the idea and import of the lawsuit, one should first know a little bit one thing about an more and more necessary realm of copyright legislation often called termination rights. In the 1970s, Congress prolonged the copyright time period. In doing so, lawmakers selected to acknowledge that many who had created works on the early stage of their careers had assigned rights to publishers with out a lot bargaining energy. So authors — or their heirs — have been allowed to terminate these offers 35 years after their work was revealed and reclaim rights throughout the later years of the copyright time period. Many songwriters together with Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Prince and David Byrne have both completed so or threatened to take action as they renegotiated royalty offers. Given the 12 months (1978) when the legislation went into impact and the 35-year wait interval, these termination rights are simply starting to make a huge impact in probate instances and elsewhere (like superstar divorces).

As a surviving partner, Hynie can be entitled to 50 p.c of the termination curiosity, with the opposite 50 p.c shared by the surviving youngsters (or grandchildren if the kid is deceased). Importantly, due to her enormous stake, Hynie is in place to veto any transfer to reclaim music rights. And, in fact, if there's no termination, then beneath current music publishing agreements, royalties circulation to the property, which distributes the cash in accordance with Brown's will and any court-ordered alterations. Before he died, Brown earmarked a few of his property to go to charitable endeavors. According to the property, though the intention has been to donate cash for scholarships to needy youngsters, "so far not one penny has been out there for these scholarships as a result of the probate litigation has continued."

In the brand new lawsuit, Brown's youngsters (aside from James II) recount the battle over marriage and paternity, though they are saying they aren’t looking for to "re-litigate" Hynie's and James II's standing as surviving partner and baby at the very least within the federal motion. The newest case focuses most closely on "back-room agreements." 

Beginning in 2013, in response to the criticism, a marketing consultant for the property tried to get the youngsters to signal away their copyright termination pursuits in return for money funds. States the criticism: "Defendants intentionally hid the underhanded nature of those proposals by orchestrating their stress marketing campaign by means of go-betweens who falsely professed to be working in Plaintiffs’ finest pursuits."

As the directors of the property have been allegedly orchestrating a plan to rob the youngsters of their termination pursuits, Hynie and James II served discover on Warner/Chappell Music, the writer and rights holder of James Brown's again catalog, that they have been exercising termination rights on 138 of Brown's compositions. The two didn't inform the opposite heirs.

Then, in 2015, continues the criticism, Hynie got here to a $1.875 million cope with Warner/Chappell to switch again rights to 5 of the songs. The suing youngsters declare that the deal was written in a fashion that leaves intact a royalty construction that favored the property to the drawback of Brown's youngsters. Hynie, whose standing as surviving partner is not being challenged by the property due to a settlement, is actually accused of buying and selling away the household's copyright termination powers. The youngsters and grandchildren, sensing they've been largely reduce out, suppose the back-room dealing stinks to excessive heavens.

How would possibly this all finish?

Hynie and the property directors are looking for dismissal with the argument that the youngsters actually do want to rehash quite a lot of the problems already handled in probate courtroom and on attraction. They say the youngsters have "failed to realize their objectives" in prior proceedings and are utilizing this as a "backup." They argue that the litigation doesn't belong in federal courtroom, and that copyright legislation gives no treatment to invalidate the forms of agreements at situation. 

This case has the potential of upending household dynamics and the everyday division of property for deceased musicians (and different authors). If copyright legislation prevents pre-assigning termination rights, can a surviving partner make offers pre-assigning the proceeds from a household's termination pursuits? Can a surviving partner reduce out different heirs by making offers with third events not to train termination rights? Must the estates of authors now be settled in a distinct authorized discussion board than everybody else within the nation due to these unusual authorized mysteries? How will these presently planning estates for authors, particularly these with massive households, presumably navigate the insanity at hand to stop extra decade-long authorized wars? 

"[Termination] is turning into a much bigger deal," says Zia Modabber, a managing associate on the Katten legislation agency who just a few years in the past dealt with a copyright termination dispute involving Smokey Robinson and his ex-wife. "Quite a lot of the music has now been out lengthy sufficient that copyright termination is arising for the primary time. We're going to see extra of that. And the foundations and information are so sophisticated, it's attending to be very messy."

This article initially appeared on The Hollywood Reporter.