Time is of the essence. Jay-Z’s former engineer, Chauncey Mahan (Mahan), just learned that the hard way. I’m not really sure what was going on there for him to wait for over ten (10) years to see what was up with his money; but, apparently Mahan worked with Jay Z from 1998-2002 on projects like Life and Times of S. Carter… Vol III., producing songs like “Big Pimpin”. When Mahan left Rockefeller, he took some masters and other unpublished works and told them that he did. A bunch of years go by and then Mahan claims Jay-Z set up a sting operation involving the Los Angeles Police Department where all of the music was confiscated and handed over to Rockefeller. In return Mahan claims co-ownership in forty-one (41) of Jay-Z’s songs.
Under the Copyright Act (Act), creators of “original works of authorship” are granted exclusive rights to reproduce the work, create derivative works, distribute the work, publicly perform the work (including by digital audio transmission) and publicly display the work. It is unlawful for anyone to violate any of these exclusive rights. These rights are subject to certain limitations that are described in grave detail in the Act and are much to plentiful for me to explain within this article. I will however discuss one, the statute of limitations, because it was this very limit that caused Mahan to lose the case.
So as an engineer, Mahan created “original works of authorship” with Jay-Z and absent an agreement to the contrary, Mahan was presumably a co-owner of the copyright. As co-owner, he has the exclusive rights detailed above. Possession of those rights gives him viable claims for copyright infringement for violating his right to reproduce (mass production of CD’s, cassettes, etc.), create derivative works (compilation albums, samples), distribute the work (offer for sale or otherwise disseminate to the public), and publicly perform the work (radio, club, restaurant, and digital audio transmission etc.).
Statutes of Limitations are provisions written into every body of law that restrict the time which a legal proceeding can be brought forth. Once the time period passes, a claim is no longer valid. The type of cause of action dictates the statute of limitations provided. The purpose of having a statute of limitations is to protect potential defendants from the prejudices and disadvantages they would likely be subject to due to the passage of time.
The Act states that a claimant only has three (3) years from the date the claim accrued to bring forth a civil claim and five (5) years to bring forth a criminal case. Mahan brought his suit in July of 2014. He made music with Jay-Z from 1998-2002. Mahan waited well over ten (10) years pastthe statute of limitations to bring forth the civil suit. He tried to claim he didn’t think he should be receiving royalties, basically alleging he didn’t know the cause of action accrued. The judge found that the copyright registrations in Rockefeller’s name, the liner notes (packaging) on the CD’s and the absence of royalty payments should have all alerted Mahan to his copyright claims against Rockefeller and Jay-Z. He definitely had to know he should’ve been getting paid. There’s a reason he never sued on that or at least asked for some sort of payment. We just don’t know what that reason is. At any rate, he waited too late. Meanwhile, Jay-Z is still big pimpin’ spending cheese…
Limitations have to be placed on laws. Otherwise they’re too broad for interpretation, compliance and enforcement. Three (3) years is a pretty fair number, especially considering how well known and widely disseminated that Jay-Z album was. My guess is if you didn’t discover your rights were being infringed upon within this three (3) year time frame, the money made off of it probably wouldn’t be worth the lawsuit.
Lerae Funderburg, Esq. is the Managing Attorney at Funderburg Law, LLC, an Atlanta based entertainment law firm. Lerae has almost 10 years of experience in entertainment law in both music law and film law. As an entertainment lawyer and blogger, Lerae keeps her viewers and subscribers up to date with entertainment law news, especially in the areas of music, copyright law and trademark law. If you are local to Atlanta, call and set up a consultation! She would love to hear from you!