1709 Blog: for all the copyright community

Friday, 23 December 2011

Kanye West and Jay-Z no wanna give up the throne

S(a)mple joy?
Chicago soul singer Syl Johnson was not pleased when, back in the summer of this year, he heard a track from his 1967 song Different Strokes sampled in Kanye West and Jay-Z's The Joy from the deluxe version of their joint album Watch The Throne.

Different Strokes has been sampled by several artists, including Michael Jackson, Will Smith, Kid Rock and Tupac Shakur. Representatives for West -- claims Mr Johnson, who is a veteran of copyright battles -- first attempted to obtain permission to use an excerpt of the song for his 2010 album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. However, because they were unable to obtain permission in time for the release of the album, no sampling of the song was included there.

In August 2011, West and Jay-Z released new album Watch The Throne, which includes The Joy.

In October, Johnson filed suit against the hip-hop duo plus Rock-A-Fella Records, UMG and Def Jam before the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois Eastern Division. He claimed that defendant's conduct infringed -- inter alia -- 17 U.S.C. §106 and they were liable under 17 U.S.C. §501. He asked the Court to order a full accounting from defendants arising out of the sales and publishing activities relating to any of his rights, as well as punitive damages for the alleged sample usage.

A few days ago, West and Jay-Z indicated how they intend to fight the lawsuit. In particular, they challenge Johnson's standing in bringing the claim and question whether Johnson's sound recording is protected by federal copyright since it was made before 1972, when the law changed to cover sound recordings. Sound recordings fixed before February 15, 1972, were generally protected by common law or in some cases by statutes enacted in certain states but were not protected by federal copyright law. The defendants also suggest they may have had a licence to use it. According to their Answer:
"Any claim based on the alleged use of Plaintiffs' recording is barred because, inter alia, (a) the allegedly copied portion of the Plaintiff's recording is not part of the musical composition; and, if it is part of the composition, (b) is not protectable and/or (c) any use was de minimis."
Earlier this month, Syl Johnson was nominated for two Grammy Awards for Best Historical Album and Best Liner Notes for Syl Johnson: Complete Mythology. "Should have been three [Kanye West and Jay-Z were nominated for Best Rap Album Watch The Throne]", he told Billboard.
"I don't know why Kanye didn't get with me first," said Johnson, "the man knows me and my daughter ... [Kanye] said he wanted to meet with me and apologize - since I sued him -- but I didn't sue him to be smart, I sued him because that's the right thing to do man, I'm a musician."

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