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Tupac case: Lesson for California intellectual property planning

Los Angeles residents may overlook the valuable, invisible assets they own known as intellectual property. For estate administration purposes, website domains and blogs, images, art or music you share through social media sites are assets that belong to you and, if you so designate, your heirs.

Tupac Shakur died violently in 1996, in the prime of his hip-hop career. "All Eyez on Me," released the same year, was the first of three albums Tupac agreed to make for now-defunct Death Row Records.

Afeni Shakur was appointed estate administrator after her son's death. The following year, Death Row Records and Afeni agreed to a settlement that gave the estate rights to Tupac's original recordings.

Afeni accepted a deal that Death Row would pay the estate for an album of previous-unreleased Tupac recordings at the end of ten years. Royalties from all albums were included in the contract.

Death Row Records entered a deal with a record distributor in 2003 that included Tupac's recordings. The distributor, now called Entertainment One, was forbidden to assign distribution rights for Tupac's music without the Shakur estate's permission.

Estate administration duties grew complex when Death Row went bankrupt in 2006. As a result, the estate received $100,000 that led to a 2007 album of never-before released Tupac music. Death Row's sale to WIDEAwake Death Row Entertainment included the initial Tupac contract and subsequent estate and distribution agreements.

The unresolved $1.1 million lawsuit brought by Afeni against Death Row Acquisition LLC and Entertainment One stated Death Row had no right to sell intellectual property it did not own. The complaint alleges Tupac's estate never got the royalties or unreleased master recordings it was promised, now in the possession of Entertainment One.

California estate plans increasingly require consideration of intangible assets. The time and effort invested now in safeguarding intellectual property can help heirs and estate mangers avoid future costly litigation.

Source:, "Tupac's Mom Sues for Royalties & Masters" Matt Reynolds, Sep. 26, 2013

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