Copyright

'The Court Has Listened to Hip Hop for Decades'

Federal judge uses his Drake and Eminem fandom to dispute copyright infringement claim.

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Drake/Facebook

Typically when hip-hop lyrics come to court, it's for no-good and free-speech-infringing reasons (see here, here, and here). So let's highlight a positive marriage of law and hip-hop while we have the chance, no?

The case, out of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, involves a copyright infringement claim brought by Robert R. Prunty, who alleges that hip-hop artist Common ripped off Prunty's song "Keys to the Kingdom" in his 2014 hit "Kingdom." Prunty is suing French media company Vivendi SA and Universal Music Group.

In a September decision, District Judge Amit P. Mehta dismissed Prunty's claim, concluding that "other than the word 'Kingdom' appearing in both songs' titles and the phrase 'keys to the kingdom' appearing in both songs' lyrics, they bear little resemblance to one another and are not substantially similar."

Neither the song title nor the phrase "The Keys to the Kingdom" are copyrighttable material, noted the judge, since individual words and short phrases are not subject to copyright. 

As to Prunty's argument that expert testimony was needed to evaluate the similarities between his song and Common's? "This court is capable of concluding as a matter of law, without the assistance of expert testimony," that the two songs are not substantially similar, Mehta scoffs. 

In a footnote to this assertion, he adds that "this court does not consider itself an ordinary 'lay person' when it comes to hip-hop music and lyrics. The court has listened to hip hop for decades and considers among his favorite musical artists, perhaps as a sign of his age, Jay-Z, Kanye West, Drake, and Eminem." 

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  1. But without experts, how will we weigh important things like rap lyrics, the meaning of “shall not be infringed”, and other hard stuff? Only those with special letters behind their names can unravel these mysteries.

  2. The court is also aware that a pimp’s love is very different from that of a square

    1. +1 Upgrayedd

      1. …with 2 d’s for “a double dose of dat pimpin’.”

  3. So let’s highlight a positive marriage of law and hip-hop while we have the chance, no?

    No.

  4. I’m old school. Like Run DMC, Beastie Boys, of course. Jungle Brothers, Tribe Called Quest. Del Tha Funkee, Heiroglyphics, Pharcyde. Kool Keith as Dr. Octagon, Chocolate Elvis, or whatever spirit is possessing him currently. Of course, RZA, Meth, GZA, Ghostface, Osiris and all the Wu.

    But Drake? C’mon man.

    Think I’ll go for a jog and listen to Deltron this morning.

    1. Agreed. Be it resolved that the court, although to be commended in trying to brandish pop culture cred, has shit taste in music. Give me that EPMD Blackalicious, Brother Ali, Brand Nubian, The Coup, etc.

    2. I remember when Bluetooth came out and a huge number of seemingly schizophrenic people with a glowing block of plastic in their ears were talking to themselves. Every time I saw such a person this popped into my head-
      “I’m seein’ robots, passin’ by, every day, I’m seein’ robots, lalalalalala

      Thanks for the reminder of forgotten, dope hip hop… going to dust out the cobwebs of my Napster acquired hip hop collection and enjoy

  5. The court hereby orders the plaintiff to step off.

    1. I’m very upset the last sentence of his opinion wasn’t

      /drops mic…

  6. I hope this isn’t the judge I get for my lawsuit against Future for copyright infringement, as I have been saying “let’s fuck up some commas” for years.

  7. That’s just asking to get your 12(b)(6) reversed on appeal.

  8. Three basic categories of stupid. I’m sure we could come up with many more. I do like the first category though. That’s a pretty good one.

    http://www.realclearscience.co…..idity.html

  9. What? No pants wetting occurred? Are we sure this is a Reason article?

  10. Putting aside for a moment whether or not song lyrics are a good indicator of what a person has actually done. Is it the position of ENB that using what the accused has written or said as evidence of them committing a crime is a violation of the 1st Amendment?

    1. Is it the position of ENB that using what the accused has written or said as evidence of them committing a crime is a violation of the 1st Amendment?

      I don’t see where she says that in this article. I didn’t see it in the linked articles either, so can you clarify what makes you say that?

      1. The cases she links to at the beginning of the post where lyrics were used as criminal evidence. It is one thing to say that lyrics are a poor source of confirming criminal intent and action, it is quite another to suggest that using them is a free speech/press violation.

        1. it seems all the links refer to the no-good reasons portion of “no-good and free-speech-infringing reasons”.

  11. OT: Health Care Law Forces Businesses to Consider Growth’s Costs

    Inb4 “The New York Times has a well known libertarian bias.”

    1. I think you meant Liberal.

  12. individual words and short phrases are not subject to copyright

    That’s bad news for whoever first put You just don’t get it, do you? into a screenplay.

  13. I hate rap. Both songs are an infringement of music.

  14. Neither the song title nor the phrase “The Keys to the Kingdom” are copyrighttable material, noted the judge, since individual words and short phrases are not subject to copyright.

    Someone should inform the Patent Office and Coach Pat Riley.

    1. Trademark has what relevance to this?

    2. The link you gave refers to trademarks. They got trademarks for using “three-peat” to sell shirts and other unspecified merchandise.

      That means’ you can’t sell, for example, a three-peat sweatshirt or coffee mug without their permission.

      It doesn’t mean you can’t *say it,* though there is a bit of overlap.

      A quick search shows that there’s various people have trademarked a “Christmas Carol” air freshener, a “Tiny Tim” line of “wagering terminals,” and an “Ebenezer’s Furniture” furniture store, but that doesn’t mean there’s a copyright on these phrases (Dickens’ book is in the public domain).

      Just don’t use “Christmas Carol” to sell air fresheners or related products without the trademark holder’s permission.

      1. Incidentally, Ebenezer’s Furniture is “For the Little Bit of Scrooge in all of us.”

    3. IMNAL so copyright and trademark are synonymous to me. The absurdity of the argument in support of the lawsuit reminded me of the ‘threepeat’ trademark. I will leave it to you to explain the logic of how the trademark protects not only the artistic design, but also the mere printing of the phrase on a t-shirt.

  15. I bet the judge’s favorite songs are “F___ tha Police,” “Rhymin’ and Stealin’,” and “Cop Killer.”

  16. No one should be able to say “Drake” and “Kanye West” in the same breath as “Jay-Z” and “Eminem.” The latter changed the face of hip-hop, the former are coattail riders who are in love with their own personas. Especially that damn Drake, how many times do we have to hear about how you made your start off a mixtape and nobody helped you? Me thinks the court is out of order.

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