Rick Ross is definitely a hustler. So much so, he thought he could get credit for a catch phrase he borrowed from someone else. Ross is suing pop group LMFAO for their hit single “Party Rock Anthem” for their use of the line “Everyday I’m shuffling” simply because Ross popularized the already used phrase “Everyday I’m hustling” with his hit single “Hustlin’”. Fortunately for content creators across the globe, the judge in this case denied Ross’ claims and held that the phrase was not sufficiently original to be copyrightable material when applied to merchandise. Could you imagine if it were? The repercussions of a decision in Ross’ favor would have effectively provided avenues for artists to claim ownership over colloquial speech and require everyone who happened to use them thereafter to secure licenses or risk the penalties of copyright infringement.
The judge found that the three word phrase when separated from the rest of the lyrics and musical composition does not meet the test for originality. She also went on to say that the intrinsic test of similarities between the two phrases would not likely be met as the public is not likely to be confused about the origins of the phrase or assume that it was misappropriated. Most notably, she explains that just because a work as a whole is copyrightable and protected, that all elements of the work are not guaranteed copyright protection.
Words and short phrases are not copyrightable subject matter. Individuals looking to protect things of that sort, generally find protection under trademark law and/or unfair competition. There is overwhelming precedent to back up this notion and people who seek out copyright law to protect these single words and short phrases are often denied. These phrases just don’t possess the minimum degree of creativity required to meet the originality standard of copyright protection.
The lawsuit shall move forward with regard to the songs and is set to go to trial soon, but based on the conclusion with regard to the merchandise, the decision should be the same. If Ross won this case, I’m sure all of the artists who have used this same phrase in their songs would be looking to sue him for copyright infringement as well, because this phrase did not originate with him. And just imagine how many more lawsuits would be spurred behind this one decision because there are plenty of songs with the same word combinations. The possibility for lawsuits would be endless.
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!