Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Litigation Update: Weezy’s Copyright Conundrum, Queen Latifah’s Legal Woes, & Prodigy’s Prison ’Suit

On March 18, U.S. Magistrate Judge Daniel E. Knowles III ordered Dwayne A. Carter, a.k.a. Lil Wayne, to turn over all documents listing any income, advances and royalties the artist has received from sales of his latest album, Tha Carter III. The order was the latest development in Urband & Lazar Music Publishing, Inc. v. Dwayne A. Carter, a copyright infringement suit alleging that Carter sampled “Once”, a song written and performed by Karma Ann Swanepoel and published by Urband & Lazar, without obtaining a licensing agreement from the plaintiff.

The song at the center of the dispute, Carter’s “I Feel Like Dying”, prominently features Swanepoel’s voice, lyrics and musical composition. Although the song ultimately did not make the final cut of Tha Carter III, the plaintiffs are seeking damages and an injunction prohibiting Carter from continued use of the song. The suit alleges that Carter posted “I Feel Like Dying” on his MySpace page, allowing over 16 million people to download the song without acknowledging the expropriation of the plaintiff’s work. The suit further alleges that Carter has won critical acclaim and boosted concert ticket sales through his use of the song.

(Compare “Once” and “I Feel Like Dying”)

In his response to the Plaintiff’s Motion to Compel the documents, Carter claimed that because the song was not included on the album or otherwise sold for a profit, the plaintiff could not show the requisite “reasonable relationship” between the allegedly infringing use and the profits from Tha Carter III, and therefore was not entitled to discovery of records relating to the sale of his album. However, in his order, Judge Knowles noted that the plaintiffs are claiming that Carter received indirect profits from his use of the song; thus, they do not have to establish such a “reasonable relationship.”

While a settlement may ultimately prove to be in Carter’s best interest, don’t expect him to be cowed by the specter of IP litigation. The Urband & Lazar case is the third copyright infringement claim filed against Carter in the past 18 months.

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Dana Owens, a.k.a. Queen Latifah, is also experiencing her share of March legal madness. A pair of women claiming to be former employees of Owens filed separate breach of contract suits against the hip hop mogul in Manhattan Federal Court on Monday.

Cosmetologist Roxanna Floyd and stylist Susan Moses claim they are owed $700,000 and $300,000, respectively, for work performed on Queen Latifah’s CoverGirl ad campaign and “Curvations” line of intimate apparel.

Just nine months ago, Owens was involved in a breach of contract suit against Perfect Christmas Productions, which she said failed to pay her $275,000 for her role in the movie The Perfect Holiday.

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Finally, Albert Johnson, a.k.a. Prodigy (of Mobb Deep fame), has managed to remain in the news despite serving a 3 ½ year jail sentence as a result of charges brought under New York City’s strict handgun laws.

On March 23, Johnson filed documents in Manhattan Supreme Court alleging that Vox Music Group has failed to pay him over $30,000 in royalties related to an agreement in which Vox was to translate Johnson’s H.N.I.C. 2 album into over 1,400 languages. Vox uses 10-minute voice samples from artists to create completely translated songs.

No word on whether “Shook Ones Pt. II” sounds as ominous in German as it does in English.


  1. This is a very interesting blog. I listened to the Lil'Wayne song and the original song that was sampled. It is clear that the song "Once" is used in Lil'Wayne's song. This sample, which is the chorus of the original, is looped pretty much throughout the entire Lil'Wayne song...I was just thinking about copyright infringement, and how I agree that settlement may be in Carter's best interest because this is a substantial and recognizable portion of "Once" that is sampled. Obviously the Court is not concerned that this song did not make it onto the album, and therefore I think it seems that the Court is likely to find infringement and liability.

  2. Karma Ann Swanepoel should be happy that her song is getting so much publicity. I'm sure she did not have 16 million in sales and probably not even 8 million people listened to the song. Additionally, I doubt if 4 million people have ever heard of it. They should be more strategic in jumpstarting interest in that song through a duet or remix versus trying to sap the pockets of the artist that used it. On the flip side, Lil Wayne, his producers, and legal team should clear all legal hurdles before they blatantly cover someone else creative works.


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