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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.  


Formal Entertainment v. Zayn Malik (2023)

A dispute involving songs with a similar “vibe”, structure, and sounds… but copying of protectable original musical expression?

Concord Music Group, et al. v. Anthropic PBC (2023)

This is perhaps the first salvo by a music publisher against companies building AI systems whose outputs are built upon the copyrighted words and music of pop songs. The words (“lyrics”) of these works are the basis of this dispute.

Darko v. Graham (2023)

Who knew… “killer cut, blood” means “great song, brother, great song” – or so we are informed in the Complaint. As true of several other sampling disputes, this one might never have been lodged if the Defendant had not caught an opportunist eye when seeking authorization to copy a de minimis snippet of Plaintiff’s work.

Stone v. Carey (2023)

One infers from the complaint that what really irks the Plaintiff is the fact that Mariah Carey used the same non-protectable idea he had used earlier, resulting in a vastly more economically profitable work.

Third Side Music v. Evenflo Co. (2022)

The complaint makes the peculiar claim that defendant took the “less honorable path” of using a “not-yet-but-soon-to-be-popular song.” As if anyone could predict the popularity of a new pop song — particularly one from a little-known band. It also claims the defendant’s ad is a “soundalike copy.” But soundalikes, strictly speaking, are not illicit copies, but rather works that may legitimately allude to or imitate the sound of another work. Once we’ve obtained a copy of the defending work we’ll be in a better position to opine on the legitimacy of the plaintiff’s allegation of infringement of musical expression. 

Phase One Network v. Kanye West, et al. (2022)

If defendants’ had not sought plaintiff’s permission (according to the complaint) to use minimal snippets of the plaintiff’s work, most likely the plaintiff would never have considered lodging this claim.  

Larball Publ’g. Co. v. Lipa (2022)

This is the second time Larball (a Tennessee music publisher) has claimed infringement of its copyright in the thoroughly embarrassing disco song “Wiggle” (1979). The defending number in the earlier dispute was “Don Diablo” the copyright to which the plaintiff acquired as a result of the claim.  

Quinn, et al. v. Powell et al. (2022)

Like an increasing number of infringement claims involving rap and other currently popular musical genres, this one devolves to a question of who did (and owns) what, in the creation of a work with numerous “authors”. Too many cooks spoil the broth…

Cleveland Constantine Browne et al. v. Rodney Sebastian Clark Donalds et al. (2021)

If the U.S. had a sensible policy whereby the losing party in copyright disputes would be automatically liable for all costs, we’d be likely spared contrived disputes like this one — a blatant fishing expedition for financial settlements from companies and deep-pocketed individuals, based on a fatuous claim of infringement of a commonplace brief rhythmic motif.   

Cooper, et al. v. Chris Brown Entertainment, LLC, et al. (2021)

Aspiring rapper who uses the moniker “Mr. Cooper” has claimed Chris Brown, Drake and other songwriters copied the lyrics of his “hook” in their Grammy-nominated “No Guidance” — a hook, comprising nothing more than the utterly unoriginal verbal expression “You got it, girl, you got it,” which is repeated several times in defendants’ work. 

Stines v. Knowles, et. al. (2020)

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.

Basil v. AMC (2020)

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.

Jackson v. Apple, Inc. (2020)

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.

Gordon v. Chambers (2020)

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.

Marcus Gray, et al. v. Katy Perry, et al. (2020)

“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 v. Setlur (2019)

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.


Richardson v. Kharbouch (2019)

“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).


Key, et al. (“Yellowcard”) v. Higgins, et al. (“Juice WRLD”) (2019)

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.


Brandon Lee (“Don Lee”), et al. v. Hill (“Lil Nas X”), et al. (2019)

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.


Nicholas v. Pigott, et al. (2019)

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.


Brighter Sky Productions LLC, et al. v. Marriott International, Inc., et al. (2018)

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.


Platinum Jack Entertainment v. ESPN and Chick-Fil-A (2018)

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.


Griffin v. Ed Sheeran, et al. (2017) & Structured Asset Sales v. Ed Sheeran, et al. (2020)

The songs in question are by Marvin Gaye and Ed Sheeran, respectively. Like the recently filed claim by Harrington against Sheeran, 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. On May 4, 2023 a unanimous jury found Sheeran not liable for infringement, thus (one hopes) ending this benighted claim.  


Gabor Presser v. Kanye West (2016)

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.


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