A panel of three judges with the Tennessee Court of Appeals questioned lawyers for country superstar Tim McGraw and his former record label, Curb Records, as part of an ongoing lawsuit in a court session in Nashville on Friday (July 27.)

The legal battle dates back to May of 2011, when Curb filed suit against the singer for breach of contract, claiming that McGraw delivered his  ‘Emotional Traffic’ album too soon, thereby violating a contractual obligation to space his albums out by 18 months.

The superstar countersued, alleging that Curb Records kept him in a state of “involuntary servitude” by making him wait to release his contracted albums. He claimed Curb deliberately released a series of greatest hits packages, which forced him to wait another 18 months before being able to fulfill another original studio album in his contract. To date, Curb has released a total of seven Tim McGraw hits packages.

In November of 2011, a Nashville judge ruled that McGraw was free to record elsewhere while he waited for the lawsuit to be finalized. McGraw signed a new deal with Big Machine Records in May and announced that he had 20 new tracks ready for release. Curb has claimed that McGraw is still an artist under contract, alleging that his new music legally belongs to Curb to release. The most recent hearing was part of an appeals process to determine the validity of that claim.

According to the Tennessean, Curb Records attorney Jay Bowen argued that McGraw is still under contract to Curb, prompting Judge Frank Clement to interrupt, “That brings up the concept of involuntary servitude.”

Bowen argued that McGraw deliberately breached his contract. “It is one thing to say, ‘You will record for Curb.’ That is involuntary servitude,” the lawyer said. “It is a different thing to say, ‘We are giving you a choice, Mr. McGraw. It is up to you to decide whether to comply with the contract.’” Bowen reiterated Curb’s position that McGraw is still under contract to the label.

While a final ruling from the Court of Appeals could take several more months, another hearing in the case is scheduled for next Friday. Lawyers for Big Machine Label Group are expected to argue that Curb should not be allowed to subpoena Big Machine executives in the ongoing case.

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