The Music Copyright Infringement Resource provides documentation and commentary relating to litigated music copyright infringement disputes. InPlay covers ongoing and recent cases in the U.S. and abroad, including some that may not proceed to trial. These disputes often involve well-known popular musicians, and raise questions that are broadly interesting about copyright law and popular music. The disputes covered here will migrate to the main case list once settled, or finally disposed of through litigation.
Like a regrettable number of recent music infringement claims based on similar unprotectable or de minimus expression, this one is based on nothing more than an unprotectable three-word mantra (“Made in America”; “This is America”) intoned by the songwriters/performers.
The dispute is based upon the “hook” of “A Lonely Night,” a song by Abel Tesfaye, a pop/R&B performer known as The Weeknd. Three UK pop musicians allege The Weeknd accessed their work while they were pitching their song to labels around the world, and copied its musical hook. The district court found that the plaintiffs failed to establish their claims of access or substantial similarity, and granted The Weeknd’s motion for summary judgment. The plaintiffs appealed in January 2021, re-alleging that the two songs are “strikingly similar.”
Three years after the release of the hit song “Loyalty” by Kendrick Lamar, musician Terrance Hayes brought suit against the Grammy-winning rapper for copyright infringement. Hayes alleged that Lamar stole his same-name track recorded in 2011 and provided sheet music comparison to present how identical the two works are.
According to the complaint, “The Carters” (i.e. Beyonce and Jay-Z) incorporated a brief audio recording of Lenora Stines in their song “Black Effect”. In the recording Lenora Stines, a purportedly well-known Jamaican dancer, speaks for a minute about her notions on different forms of love. Quite unclear from the complaint, however, are the contractual terms the Stines agreed to in writing prior to making the recording. Regardless of the merits of the claim, given the involvement of Beyonce and Jay-Z, undoubtedly this dispute will be carefully followed by their fans.
One of those most popular numbers of the 80s, “Mickey,” is now the center of a copyright dispute after the artist, Toni Basil, exercised her reversion rights. Despite this, AMC entered into an allegedly invalid licensing agreement with the previous rights holder, and then used the track for trailers of the television show Preacher. Whether the court upholds Basil’s reversion rights remains to be seen. “Mickey” may not be “so fine” after all.
Apple is caught up in a dispute involving a song used in the TV series “Amazing Stories,” which debuted on Apple TV+. Jackson Darell, the plaintiff who does business as JED Productions, claims that his song “Side Show” was used in one episode without permission.
Rapper 6ix9ine is sued for copyright infringement over his 2018 song “Stoopid.” Another rapper, Seth Gordon, alleges that the song opens with a snippet performed by him without his permission. According to Gordon, the snippet was a “radio drop” he recorded for another company. It’s worth noting that 6ix9ine re-uploaded a music video of “Stoopid” without the disputed snippet to his YouTube page.
One of the hottest songs of 2019, “Circles,” is now the subject of a lawsuit between artist Post Malone and alleged co-writer Tyler Armes. Armes claims that Post Malone refused to credit Armes as a songwriter on the track, despite Armes playing an integral role in the songwriting process. This case is still in its early stages, and whether the dispute will continue to go in “circles” remains to be seen.
“Joyful noise”? That would be Katy Perry’s shriek of relief upon learning that the District Court judge recently overturned the jury verdict finding her liable for infringement. On April 13, 2020, after “weighing his options” Gray opted to appeal Judge Christina Snyder’s decision to the Ninth Circuit. An audacious, if not contrarian, approach given that Snyder’s opinion relies heavily on the Ninth Circuit’s en banc opinion in the factually similar Zeppelin dispute.
Kraftwerk’s claim that defendant Setlur illicitly copied a 2-second snippet of its electronic sounds was ultimately reviewed by the European Court of Justice. The ECJ ruled that if a defendant’s sampling of a protected sound recording resulted in a “modified form unrecognizable to the ear,” it might not be considered infringing. While this holding may provide momentary relief to musicians who sample, the ECJ remanded the case to the German Federal High Court of Justice, which will issue a final decision on the merits.
“French Leave” by” French Montana”? Music Producer Eddie Lee Richardson (“Hotwire the Producer”) alleges “French Montana” made a literal copy of a sonic arrangement he had posted online and used it as the background for his “Ain’t Worried About Nothin'” (apparently, and extraordinarily, a highly popular number despite its racially offensive words).
William Key of Yellowcard filed suit against Jarad Higgins, a Chicago rapper also known as Juice WRLD, New Day Worldwide, for allegedly infringing upon melodic elements from Yellowcard’s “Holly Wood Died”, including the vocal melody.
Detroit singer Lizzo wants a federal judge to declare that brothers Raisen are not co-writers of her hit song Truth Hurts. Despite drawn-out attempts to settle this dispute quietly, hostilities have crescendoed quickly with one of the Raisen brothers airing the matter on Instagram, and Lizzo’s attorneys valiantly responding in other media.
Two Atlanta-based producers filed a complaint against novelty-rap-star-turned-revolutionary Lil Nas X and his collaborators over one of their latest releases, alleging they infringed upon a beat and chord progression they created for use in another hip-hop track.
Plaintiff Samuel Nicholas claims Defendants A. Pigott (“BlaqNmilD”), Aubrey Drake Graham (“Drake”), et al. infringed upon a “beat” he authored called “Roll Call (Instrumental)”. BlaqNmilD’s “That beat” has featured in several songs he co-produced for Drake and Big Freedia, which may potentially result in liability for many parties named in the complaint.
A young girl’s adoptive parents hoping for a windfall from Kanye West. This performer, in his song “Ultralight Beam”, incorporated a snippet of a recording taken by the child’s biological mother, of her gesticulations and prayerful exclamations in excitement over an upcoming road trip to Atlanta.
Rocket Boys shooting for the sky, legally speaking. The authors of the musical “Rocket Boys” have sued Marriott over its stage adaptation of Universal Pictures “October Sky” alleging infringement of music, lyrics, and scenes of their work.
The Complaint is refreshingly concise, but it appears to be so mainly because it offers no factual bases for its sweeping and ambiguous allegations of copyright infringement.
The songs in question are by Marvin Gaye and Ed Sheeran, respectively. Like the recently filed claim by Harrington against Sheeran (see below) Griffin’s claim lacks merit, and appears to be merely a “copycat” claim instigated by the recent success of Gaye’s heirs in their dispute with Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams. Piling on to Griffin’s opportunist claim, Structured Asset Sales, which owns a one-third interest in the copyright of Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get it On,” filed a similar infringement claim against Sheeran.
A dispute not about music but about defendants’ use of a few words similar to those used by the plaintiff: “playas” (not referring to beaches), “haters”, etc. that apparently hold ambiguous and far-ranging meanings to young pop music fans.
The defendant’s motion to dismiss suggests that the plaintiffs’ attorneys may have been unclear about the importance of registration formalities under the 1909 Copyright Act. An interesting dispute involving not a question of substantial similarity, but of equity and statutory compliance.