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R Kelly accused of fraudulently selling his music rights after losing sex abuse litigation

By | Published on Monday 10 October 2022

R Kelly

R Kelly has been accused of fraudulently selling his music rights to a childhood friend in order to avoid that intellectual property from being used to cover the damages he was ordered to pay as a result of civil litigation over allegations of sexual abuse.

The musician was sued by Heather Williams in February 2019, a month after the screening of the ‘Surviving R Kelly’ programme that prompted various new criminal investigations into the many allegations of sexual abuse that had been made against the star over the years.

Those criminal investigations, of course, have resulted in two high profile trials to date, in both Chicago and New York. In the former he was found guilty of enticing minors to engage in criminal sexual activity and of filming that abuse. In the latter he was found guilty of running a criminal enterprise in order to access and abuse teenagers and women.

Williams alleged that she first met Kelly in 1998 when she was sixteen and initially agreed to spend time with him at his studio because he promised to put her in a music video. However the video never happened and instead they began a sexual relationship which Williams subsequently recognised as sexual abuse, hence the legal action in 2019.

The musician failed to properly defend himself in the case, resulting in Williams winning by default in February 2020. And the following month the court awarded her $4 million in damages.

According to a new legal filing with the courts in Illinois, when Williams first sued Kelly in 2019 – and when she was awarded the damages in 2020 – the musician still had an interest in his songs catalogue. However, in August 2021, as the New York criminal trial got underway, Kelly allegedly sold his music rights to Keith Calbert, a childhood friend, for $5 million.

That transaction, Williams’ legal team claims, “constituted a fraudulent transfer under the Illinois Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act”, because Kelly knew that there was “a great likelihood of court ordered garnishment or civil recovery” in order to secure Williams her damages, and therefore the transfer of the IP rights was “made with the intent to hinder, delay or defraud a creditor”.

With that in mind, Williams asks the court to “set aside the August 2021 [transfer] as fraudulent pursuant to the act to the extent necessary to satisfy credit’s claim herein”, and to then rule that plaintiff “be allowed to obtain the rights to the composition and lyric rights in order to satisfy judgement herein”.

Part of Williams’ claim is based on the argument that the $5 million price tag for Kelly’s rights was too low, suggesting that the deal with Calbert was simply designed to put the music rights out of the reach of Williams and other people due monies from both civil lawsuits and criminal action against the musician.

Though, of course, given the complete collapse of Kelly’s music career following the airing of ‘Surviving R Kelly’, it might be tricky to accurately value his catalogue.

It remains to be seen how the court now rules. Given that Williams is not the only person owed money by Kelly as a result of legal proceedings, plenty of other people will likely follow this case closely.