Tuesday, 10 August 2010

What’s Your Motto?

I just love it when hip hop artists get involved in law suits; it’s the best way to learn their full real names (and generally get in a good chuckle). These cases also tend to result in a bunch of crinkly old men, and sometimes women, parsing street slang and debating the similarities of ways to describe females. Usually good for another round of amusement.

Blessing us with a new wonderful opportunity for fun is Deandre Cortez Way, aka Soulja Boy Tell ‘Em, who is being sued for copyright and trademark infringement (and unfair competition, unjust enrichment and consumer protection act violations) for some postings on his website and a tattoo on his chest.

The plaintiff in the suit is Clement Brown, Jr., owner of the clothing line Laundry Money. He claims that he has a valid copyright infringement for the following grouping of words and phrases, which is the Laundry Money slogan:

grind…hustle hard…double up…
flip…stack…get your weight up…
own your own business…
buy property…network…
build credit…stay determined…
stay focused… stay dedicated…
and Keep…
”clean clothes 4 dirty work”

Brown alleges that Soulja Boy has infringed the Laundry Money slogan in his S.O.D. Money Gang Code of Honor, which is as follows:

Grind.. Hustle.. Double Up.. Flip.. Stack.. Get Yo Weight Up.. Save.. Shop.. Invest.. Recoup.. Own Your Own Business.. Buy Property.. Network.. Build Credit.. Stay Determined.. Stay Focused.. Stay Dedicated.. Never Lie To Your Higher Authority.. Have Goals.. Always Represent.. Always Remember Money First.. Use Your Head.. Business First.. Plan Ahead.. Never Snitch.. Don’t Be Afraid.. Always Be Prepared.. Stay On Time.. Sleep 10%.. Gang Colors Yellow and Green.. Never Betray The Boss.. You Only Get One Shot.. GET MONEY….

There are some similarities; there are also some differences (beyond the fact that one party knows how to use capitalization and the other party, punctuation). For example, Soulja Boy’s rules work like my dad’s; there’s two “first”s. Laundry Money doesn’t specify if any of its mantra pieces are more important than the others.

The complaint says that Soulja Boy uses this Code of Honor on his website, in his cd booklets and has it tattooed on his chest. I was unable to find it on the Soulja Boy website, except in use as an id or in comments by “Team Soulja Boy” members, i.e. fans. Unfortunately, my Soulja Boy album is in storage, so I cannot pull out the booklet to look for the Code there.

As for Soulja Boy’s chest, the complaint quotes the tattoo as:

Grand Hustle
Invest Sleep 10%
Save Get

That’s more than a little different than the long Laundry Money slogan above.

In addition to comparing the similarities of the texts, there are a number of other issues that the court may need to address, including:

  • Coprightability of the original work, is it original?
  • Access, this may come down to timing. Brown claims the slogan was created as early as 2004 and registered in July of 2008. Soulja Boy had his chest tattoo by November 2008 at the latest. Is Laundry Money as big as it says it is? When did it get big?
  • Is a tattoo a fair use? (There’s a great resource on copyright tattoos available from Rebecca Tushnet’s 43(B)log here.)

Stepping up to the slang-parsing task this time will be the Honorable Judge Victoria A. Roberts of the Eastern District of Michigan. As someone who may be around teenagers more than your average judge, through her involvement with the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization, Judge Roberts may have any easier time working her way through the slogan and code of honor. Will be interesting to see what she has to say! (If the case doesn’t settle first…)

Case details and documents (for a fee) available here: Clement Brown, Jr. v. Deandre Cortez Way et al 2:10-cv-13016-VAR-MAR. Video of muzungu teaching Zambians how to do Soulja Boy’s dance here.

Photo: Soulja Boy playing X-box by Kevin cc-by available on Flickr.

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