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A federal judge in Pennsylvania has lifted a temporary injunction that barred distribution of a new album by The O’Jays — whose hits in the 1970s included “Love Train” and “Backstabbers” — after finding that the group most likely has no power under its contract to stop its label from issuing a collection of previously unreleased songs. In his 13-page opinion in Levert v. Philadelphia International Records, U.S. District Judge R. Barclay Surrick found that the contract gives PIR “the unlimited right to release songs recorded pursuant to the contract.” As a result, Surrick concluded that plaintiffs Edward Levert and Walter Williams are not likely to succeed in the suit and therefore are not entitled to any injunction barring distribution of the album. Surrick’s ruling came just three days after the judge issued a temporary restraining order that was agreed to by both sides in order to allow the judge time to hold a hearing. In the suit, plaintiffs attorneys Ann C. Lebowitz and Charles J. Grant of Grant & Lebowitz in Philadelphia alleged that the album — titled “Together We Are One” — is “an unauthorized compilation of certain of The O’Jays’ previously recorded but unreleased songs that were included in master recordings made by The O’Jays in PIR studios more than 20 years ago.” The suit says the songs were “vaulted” by PIR for decades because they were “unworthy of release.” Typically, the suit says, The O’Jays would record about 15 songs for each album, but only seven or eight would be selected for release. Releasing the rejected songs now will harm the reputation of The O’Jays, the suit alleges, since they are “both stale and artistically substandard.” The suit says the album’s release will irreparably harm Levert and Williams “by tarnishing the musical reputation they have established over the past 40 years, by making it more difficult for them to obtain appropriate and appropriately compensated concert bookings and recording contracts with other producers due to the release of artistically inferior recordings.” But PIR’s lawyers, Oren J. Warshavsky and Jean J. Wolfe of Gibbons Del Deo Dolan Griffinger & Vecchione in New York, said in court papers that the contract “gives PIR full ownership of, and unfettered right to exploit, the recordings at issue.” In one clause, the defense team says, the contract specifically “contemplates the future release of ‘canned’ or previously unreleased recordings.” The defense lawyers complained in their brief that Levert and Williams knew for years about the album, but they waited until the eve of its planned April 6 distribution to go to court. The album has been under discussion for more than four years, the defense brief said, and “never once did plaintiffs suggest that they were concerned the release would harm their reputations.” Instead, the defense lawyers said, Levert and Williams sought an injunction “only after repeated attempts at extorting payment failed.” According to the brief, Levert and Williams hired a series of lawyers over the past six months who made repeated requests for an “advance.” But the brief says PIR refused to pay any advance — even though the group will be entitled to royalties from the new album — because The O’Jays’ previous advances on earlier albums are still “unrecouped.” The O’Jays have been a singing group for more than 40 years. They first formed in 1958 as the Triumphs and were briefly the Mascots before being renamed by Cleveland DJ Eddie O’Jay. Although they had charting singles as early as 1963, it wasn’t until they joined forces with PIR and its owners, writers/producers Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff, that they achieved national recognition. Gamble and Huff are, according to the defense brief, “legendary song writers and record producers” who were “the principal architects behind the lush and seductive ‘Philly Soul’ music.” The duo have written songs for the Temptations, the Supremes, Peaches & Herb and Dusty Springfield, and their hits have included “Expressway to Your Heart” and “Only the Strong Survive.”

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