The Music Copyright Infringement Resource provides documentation and commentary relating to music copyright infringement cases in the U.S. that were tried, and that resulted in written judicial opinions. Most music copyright infringement disputes, however, are settled before trial. InPlay will cover, therefore, ongoing and recent disputes in the U.S. and abroad, including those 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. Those disputes covered here, that result in litigation and a judicial opinion, will ultimately migrate to the main case list.
Tamita Brown, Glen Chapman, and Jason Chapman sued Netflix, Amazon, and Apple alleging infringement upon the copyright of their song “Fish Sticks n’ Tater Tots.” The plaintiffs allege that the movie “Burlesque: Heart of the Glitter Tribe”, which has been reproduced and distributed by defendants, contains an unauthorized performance of “Fish Sticks n’ Tater Tots” during a scene in which a woman dances to the song while removing her clothing. Plaintiffs creating the song with children being the intended audience.
Leander C. Pickett, a rapper also known as M.O.S., sued the hip-hop group Migos alleging that the group’s 2018 song “Walk It Talk It” infringed the copyright of his 2008 song “Walk It Like I Talk It.” Although “walk it like I talk it” was repeated several times in both songs, the court found this expression to be a “short and commonplace phrase” not protectable by copyright, and failed therefore as the basis for the infringement claim.
New Day Worldwide, owner of all works written by singer-songwriter Jesse Graham, filed a complaint against Taylor Swift alleging Swift’s “Shake it Off” infringed upon Jesse Graham’s “Haters gone Hate” lyrics. New Day Worldwide alleges Swift’s lyrics “Cause the players gonna play, play, play[;] And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate” appropriated Graham’s copyrighted lyrics “Haters gone hate[,] Haters gone hate, Playas gone play Playas gone play, watch out for them fakers- they’ll fake you everyday[.]”
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.
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.
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.
A curious and confused claim of infringement of a musical work based on what may have been defendants’ sampling of an insignificant portion of a recorded performance of the work, which was made prior to establishment of federal copyright protection for sound recordings in 1972.
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.
An imaginative claim, as alleged in the chaotic (and unintentionally amusing) Complaint, based not on evidence of appropriation of protected musical expression, but rather on fanciful and legally irrelevant allegations of intrigue among one of the authors of the complaining song and an employee of the defending music publisher Sony.
Remarkable: the circumstances in this case are atypical of music copyright infringement disputes, and this claim appears to have merit. Think twice before booking a flight on Virgin Atlantic.
Plaintiffs, authors of a “one-hit wonder” that charted twice in the Top 20 tracks of the Billboard Hot 200 within a nine-year span, alleges that Defendants illicitly appropriated words and melody from the hook of their song that they worked into a hit musical number. Defendants successfully transferred the case from California to New York, despite one of the Plaintiffs’ allegations of failing health.
“Frozen” — I have muddled recollections of seeing it play repeatedly on the seatback screen of parents with children during an interminable flight to LAX… Read Niall Fordyce’s comment for a musically and legally sharp discussion of this dispute and its merits and/or demerits.
Another embarassing Complaint that makes sweeping allegations of infringement, including defendant’s unauthorized public display (?!) of the plaintiff’s song, with nary a word of factual support grounded in information about musical similarity.
This claim is based on nothing more than a few stylistic similarities, but it does offer one the guilty pleasure of watching and hearing Bruno Mars’ cool and slick performance of “Uptown Funk”.
The linked Comment quotes several insightful, incredulous, and acerbic reactions that were posted online in response to the plaintiff’s misguided attempt to gin up attention and sympathy for this claim.
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 estate of a young man murdered in New Orleans seeking a portion of the alleged $20 million generated by Beyonce’s “Formation” that incorporates several generic verbal phrases earlier used by the murder victim in recordings of his rambling commentaries posted on YouTube.
“Turn down for what?” For failure to state a claim… Better yet, “turn them in” — the plaintiffs that is, for bringing nuisance suits like this one that waste taxpayer money in hopes of extracting a monetary settlement from deep-pocketed defendants.
A claim based not on any musical similarities but simply the fact that defendant’s work included the brief verbal phrase “I’m Puerto Rican” [or “I’m Puerto Rico”] that was the repetitive cornerstone of plaintiff’s song.
“Nae slappin'” indeed. As in the defendants’ likely response to the Complaint’s allegations of the defendants’ misappropriation of the plaintiff’s copyrightable musical expression, and the factual quicksand offered in support of these allegations.
Another infringement claim based not on any musical commonalities, but merely the defendant’s similarly repetitive use of the indelicate expression “party and bullshit”.
Poor pop singer John Newman — another embodiment of the aphorism “Have a hit, get a writ”. In this case a claim based on the fact that his breakout number “Love Me Again” used the commonplace phrase “I need to know” that an aspiring singer in Las Vegas once also used.
This claim of infringement involving two rap songs is based on alleged musical similarities of tempo, harmonic mode, “syncopated rhythms”, etc. Even if the allegation of this constellation of similarities were true, the musical attributes in question are so elemental that permitting one party to monopolize a particular combination of them would lead to further perplexity and inhibition on the part of songwriters.
An unusual dispute involving questions whether defendant’s work qualified as a “cover” of the plaintiffs’ under the Copyright Act’s compulsory license provision, and whether informal email and personal exchanges regarding permission to use plaintiffs’ protected expression could be the basis of an express or implied license.
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.
An rare example of a dispute in which the defendant appears deliberately to have copied the entire protected musical expression of another’s work, with no recourse to a defense of parody or fair use.
It is unclear from the complaint whether the basis of the plaintiffs’ claim is alleged sampling of the plaintiffs’ recorded song, or infringement of the underlying musical work of that recording. Unambiguous, however, is the incentive for the claim: the defendants’ “triple platinum”recording.
A claim, based mainly on similar sounds, that Porsche and its advertising agency deliberately sought to avoid payment of royalties by deploying in its ad for the Cayman 718 a “sound alike” version of a rock song owned by the plaintiff.
This claim is another example of the deleterious fallout of the “Blurred Lines” verdict (now under appeal) in which the jury’s finding of liability was based on similarities of non-protectable stylistic features rather than copyrightable musical expression.
A claim identical to that lodged against Rod Stewart in 2015 (see below) but in a different forum, and by a different attorney. Equally speculative, and apparently similarly prompted by the perception of an opportunity to shake down a hugely successful performer for his use of public domain material.
Remarkable claim based on “musical” similarities involving the use of the sound of hand clapping interspersed with that of a bass drum, evoking the noisome ambiance of a high school football game.
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.
According to the complaint, the plaintiff Alex Greggs has worked behind the scenes assisting well-known pop singers in assembling their songs. It is surprising, therefore, that someone undoubtedly familiar with the sound and word-focussed approach to the creation of popular music today would assert an infringement claim based upon a slim reed of musical similarity. This appears to be another case in which topical (verbal) similarity kindled a suspicion of, and zeal to identify, musical similarity.
Perhaps emboldened by the jury verdict he obtained in the claim he brought against Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke, Nashville’s Richard Busch has brought an equally groundless infringement claim against another highly successful – and therefore financially vulnerable – new pop star, Ed Sheeran.
Feeling spurned, or at least somehow cheated, Darlene Love claims that Scripps’ licensed use of her recording of a performance of a song infringed her right of publicity associated with her voice. Love owned no copyright in the song, and was divested through assignment, of any copyright interest in her recording, for which she was compensated. In fact, Love’s voice is not that distinctive, and the song has been recorded by other well-known entertainers. She seems to be suggesting, therefore, that the public has come to associate her, and not specifically the sound of her voice, with the song “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” that Scripps used in its advertisement.
This dispute suggests the corollary that the greater the fame (and wealth) of a pop star, the more likely musical infringement claims against him will have a flimsy base. Whereas Cirque du Soleil’s claim (below) involved six pitches; this one against Bieber et al. involves only four.
It is safe to assume that any “double platinum” album will be the target of an attempt to siphon some of its financial profit. Cirque du Soleil is not a typical plaintiff — an under-the-radar musician. But the grounds of its claim — six pitches — is typical of the absurdly tenuous bases of infringement allegations, now commonplace, especially when sampling is involved
This inane claim is likely a regrettable outcome of the recent infringement case against Robin Thicke in which generic sonic commonalities between two songs were the basis for a musically know-nothing jury’s finding of liability for copyright infringement.
A misguided attempt to capitalize upon a public domain blues number based upon a copyright registration from 1929 of a particular variant of the work.
Sanctions and disbarment procedings initiated by Judge Paul Diamond — an admirable reaction to plaintiff’s attorney’s attempt to extort a financial settlement from deep-pocketed defendants.
Superannuated rocker’s exaction of profits from an independently created song by Sam Smith.
Richard Friedman’s claim of copyright infringement and violation of moral rights (!?) based on alleged unauthorized use of a portion of his stock muzak in the movie “12 Years a Slave.”
The only “joyful noise” rightly associated with this dispute would be of Katy Perry’s shriek of relief upon learning that the jury verdict finding her liable for infringement had been overturned.
A case attempting to capitalize upon Jimmy Page’s mid-brow “anthem” “Stairway to Heaven.”
Offspring of Marvin Gaye attempting to capitalize on the financial success of current pop stars.
Black Keys v. Home Depot; Black Keys v. Pizza Hut (2012)
The Black Keys sued Pizza Hut and Home Depot for allegedly using two of their hit songs in national television commercials.
Tuf America (“Trouble Funk”) v. Diamond et al. (“Beastie Boys”) (2012)
A case involving the Beastie Boys and their alleged unauthorized use of samples from several Trouble Funk songs.
An interesting case between an Iranian band and a Bollywood musician associated with the Agent Vinod action” series. From Barobax’s documents it appears that Chakroborty sampled the plaintiff’s work, and was heavily influenced by it. Curiously — regrettably? — plaintiffs withdrew their claim when the defendant threatened criminal charges against them.
Mather’s claim that Audi’s advertisement — obviously derivative of one Mathers earlier participated in for Chrysler — infringes on his protected expression.
In August 2010 election officials in Haiti decided that pop singer Wyclef Jean was ineligible to run for president, presumably because he did not meet residency requirements for presidential candidates.(www.thesmokinggun.com) reports that Wyclef Jean lives in a McMansion in Saddle River, New Jersey – where Nixon retired – and that his Haiti passport has likely spent most of the past five years – residency term requirement in Haiti – in a desk drawer in the Garden State.) In November 2010 Jean was saddled with another legal quandary, this time in the form of a revived copyright infringement claim by Martel Ellis, a singer apparently well-known as “Blah-zay”. Jean is a seasoned litigant, however, having fielded no fewer than three other copyright infringement claims between 2000 and 2008.
Yes, that really is the plaintiff’s name… Batt’s claim concerns “Black Eyed Peas’” “Boom Boom Pow” and her “Boom Dynamite”.
The regrettable power of suggestion… Not long after Batts filed suit against “Black Eyed Peas” another little-known pop musician from Texas claimed that the band’s “I Gotta Feeling” infringed the copyright of his ambient rock number “Take a Dive”. Plaintiff Bryan Pringle is represented by the same lawyers working on Batt’s claim – it would be interesting to learn the fee arrangement terms Batts and Pringle have negotiated with these lawyers.
A claim filed in a U.S. District Court in California in April, 2009. The dispute involves alleged unauthorized sampling of plaintiff’s work by defendant Usher Raymond in his recording of “Burn”.
A claim Joe Satriani, a guitar player, based on Coldplay’s popular “Viva la Vida”. The parties settled in September, 2009.
A dispute involving a Red Sox pep tune by local Boston musician Samuel Steele and a song performed by Jon Bongiovi for a television commercial. In August, 2009 a U.S. District Court in Massachusetts held for Bongiovi et al. by granting defendants’ request for summary judgement.
Domino Records v. Interscope Geffen A & M Records [Schnauss v. “Guns N’ Roses”] (2009)
The UK’s Domino Records filed a complaint in New York against the pop groupd “Guns N’ Roses” for unauthorized sampling of a recording Domino distributes, of electronically produced sounds put together by Ulrich Schnauss of Germany.