I’m not quite sure what’s going on with these artists and their blatant theft of other artist’s copyright protected works. I could see maybe trying to borrow someone’s music who doesn’t have an established career, but even nowadays, your regular everyday people have smartened up and become well aware of their intellectual property rights in music. It’s absolutely insane to sample popular music without permission, especially if you’re famous. People will hear it and inevitably so will the copyright owner. And then comes the lawsuit. Case in point: Kendrick Lamar. Well-known artist. Bill Withers. Artist famous for songs like “Lean On Me”, “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Just the Two Of Us”.
Kendrick Lamar created a song entitled “I Do This” and released it on his Kendrick Lamar EP which dropped in 2013 and includes the music from “Don’t Want You to Stay” by Bill Withers. Plaintiff’s contend that Lamar has openly admitted to using the music from Plaintiff’s song. I’ve listened to the songs and I am not certain I agree with the statement that Lamar’s song is essentially new hip hop lyrics set to the existing music of Wither’s song. Maybe I’m not listening hard enough, but they sound vaguely similar. I’m no musicologist, so an experienced one may be able to tell the exact replication, but my guess is it is not obvious to the public, just as it wasn’t very obvious to me. I heard the similarities in the Blurred Lines case, even though I did not agree with how that case was handled. I could at least understand where the confusion arose. Here, not so much. And maybe the folks over at Top Dawg Entertainment (Lamar’s label) thought the Withers team wouldn’t notice either. If they infringed, that is.
Well the plaintiff’s, Mattie Music Group, the company asserting ownership in the materials, just made it within the statute of limitations for copyright infringement. I wonder if they were just waiting to increase their damages. I would be hard pressed to believe they just heard the song right before filing the suit. Either way, they are well within their rights.
Unfortunately for Lamar, this isn’t his first time being a defendant in a copyright infringement lawsuit. Just last year, he was sued by a photographer for using a copyrighted image without permission. And the year before that, he was sued for unauthorized sampling of the song “Old and Wise” on his song “Keisha’s Song (Her Pain). Maybe he’s taking his chances on a lawsuit instead of seeking approvals. Maybe he’s an innocent infringer. Maybe he’s innocent altogether. These previous infringement claims against him definitely don’t work in his favor.
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!