Pay Up! 15 Artists Sued Over Their Songs
One song can make or break an artist’s career. The right song can put them on the map, but the wrong song can send them to court, which was the case with these artists sued over their songs.
The Notorious B.I.G.
Even though he’s been dead for almost two decades, The Notorious B.I.G. still isn’t exempt from being sued over his music. Lee Hutson, former lead singer of The Impressions, is suing Biggie’s estate over the alleged illegal use of one of his songs. Hutson accuses the Brooklyn rapper of using a sample of “Can’t Say Enough About Mom” in his 1994 song “The What” featuring Method Man and he only noticed it two years ago. Bad Boy Records filed a pre-emptive claim a few days before Hutson saying any claim about a sample is past the statute of limitations. Negotiation between the two sides broke down and it looks like the suit will be headed to court.
Robin Thicke has been in the music industry since the mid 90s but his career reached new heights last year when he released “Blurred Lines” featuring Pharrell and T.I. While the song has been featured on numerous commercials and helped Thicke sell out his concerts across the country, Marvin Gaye’s family is accusing the “Lost Without U“ singer of blurring the lines into copyright infringement. Gaye’s children have gone into court saying Thicke blatantly ripped off Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up.” Initially, Thicke filed a pre-emptive suit and said that the legendary’s song was just used as inspiration but earlier this year he settled the suit out of court with Gaye’s family.
Jay Z and Kanye West
When Jay Z and Kanye West teamed up to work on a joint album, fans of the two superstar rappers went crazy. And so did Syl Johnson after their album “Watch The Throne” was released. According to Johnson, West’s “The Joy” sampled his song “Different Strokes.” The Chicago rapper was unsuccessful in getting the sample clearance in time for his My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy album. When Watch The Throne was released, West included the song without getting permission, giving credit or payment. Instead of letting the courts handle it, West and Jay Z settled the case.
Blues singer Syl Johnson has a history of suing artists over songs. In 2008, he filed a $29 million lawsuit against the rap group Cypress Hill over a sample they used in their 1993 album “Black Sunday.” Johnson alleged the group used his 1969 song “Is It Because I’m Black” as part of their “Lock Down (Interlude)” without seeking permission. A judge ruled in favor of the rap group because the original song was recorded three years before the Federal Copyright Act was passed in 1972 and it was not protected under the law. Johnson appealed the decision but lost again.
Like most rappers, 50 Cent has released free music for his fans but not everyone was appreciative of his 2009 “War Room” mixtape. Robert Pointdexter of the R&B band The Persuaders alleged that the Queens rapper used a sample of “Love Gonna Pack Up And Walk Out” for the song “Redrum” and sued him for $600,000. 50 Cent countered that he never made any money on the song since he gave it away to fans. A judge is yet to rule on the matter.
Jay Z has sold millions of records worldwide and has certainly made a lot of money. When he dropped “The Blueprint 3” it sold almost half a million records in the first week but it also helped spawn a lawsuit. Late last year, TufAmerica, a company that buys old songs, sued the Brooklyn rapper claiming his song “Run This Town” sampled a 1969 song called “Hook and Sling” by late pianist Eddie Bo. In the suit TufAmerica is seeking “proceeds from ‘Run This Town’ and damages to be determined at trial, plus a court order to halt ‘further distribution and exploitation’ of the Eddie Bo song.” A judge has yet to rule.
Ariana Grande got her start in entertainment by starring in a show on Nickelodeon with dreams of becoming a singer. Late last year Grande realized that being a singer can come with costs after she was sued over copyright infringement. Minder Music has alleged that Grande’s hit song “The Way” bites lyrics from the 1972 hit “Troglodyte,” a funk song by the group The Jimmy Castor Bunch. Minder Music is seeking a permanent injunction and a declaration of willful infringement.
Bryan “Birdman” Williams
Bryan “Birdman” Williams started off as a rapper but he has made hundreds of millions of dollars co-founding Cash Money Records. As head of the label, he and his brother, Cash Money co-founder Ronald, were slapped with a lawsuit claiming that albums by Birdman and other artists on the label contained copyrighted material without licensing agreements and without paying royalties. The Williams brothers and the label made a single payment of $400,000 but have failed to provide the appropriate accounting to show how much more money they owe.
Mac Miller has been hauled into court over accusations that he used a song without permission. Artist Warm Speakers, real name Patrick Berlinquette, filed a lawsuit alleging the Pittsburgh rapper used a sample of his song “The World Without You” and included it in a song that was on Miller’s “Macadelic” mixtape. Miller even acknowledged the use on twitter but Berlinquette states that he has not been compensated or properly credited for its usage. This is not the first time Miller has been accused of stealing a song without paying. Just a month earlier, Lord Finesse also sued Miller for $10 million, claiming that he used his instrumental from “Hip 2 Da Game” for his track “Kool Aid & Frozen Pizza (The Kool Aid Song)” without permission.
Lil Wayne and Birdman
Thomas Marasciullo filed a copyright infringement lawsuit naming both rappers, their label Cash Money Records, and various distribution companies, claiming the label had him record some “Italian-styled spoken word recordings” back in 2006 and then used them without pay or permission on the track “Respect,” as well as other tracks featured on Weezy’s album and Birdman’s 2007 5 (Star) Stunna album. The lawsuit states Marasciullo’s recordings were used in four tracks on Life Father, Like Son and five on 5 (Star) Stunna. He has sued for an unspecified amount.
2014 isn’t turning out to be the best year so far for Ludacris. After being hauled into court over child support, the Atlanta rapper was also the target of a copyright infringement lawsuit. Artist Tyrone Davis claims Luda’s 2010 “Be With You” samples his 1979 song “Be With Me.” Ludacris alleges that the composition is entirely original. Since the song is really David Banner’s and contains vocals from Marsha Ambrosius along with verses from Ludacris, all three artists have been named in the suit filed this past January.
Jim Jones stars in his own reality show but several years ago he was the star of a copyright infringement lawsuit. Jones was accused of using a sample of Christopher R. Liggio’s song “Changing the Locks/Disco Rabbit,” which featured vocals from singer Ashanti. Liggio was named a co-author and given producer credit in the liner notes to Jones’ track, but claims he was never actually contacted. In his lawsuit, he requested $150,000 for the use of the copyrighted composition, as well as $150,000 for use of the copyrighted sound recording and attorneys’ fees and costs.
2012 was a breakout year for singer Frank Ocean. He released his debut album Channel Orange to rave reviews but a song from a previous mixtape was causing him some problems. The Eagles frontman Don Henley threatened the “Thinking Bout You” singer with a lawsuit for not getting clearance to use a sample of their hit song “Hotel California” in Ocean’s “American Wedding.” Because the song lived on Ocean’s Nostalgia, Ultra mixtape and didn’t make the singer any money, Henley wanted a piece of the proceeds if Ocean ever performed the song live. When asked what he thought of the impending lawsuit, Ocean said it was “f*cking awesome.”
Go-Go band Trouble Funk filed a lawsuit against the rap group Beastie Boys but unfortunately it was filed one day before Adam Yauch died. The band accused the “Rock Hard” rappers of using samples of their music in their first two albums License to Ill and Paul’s Boutique. Trouble band’s label TufAmerica alleges copyright infringement, unjust enrichment and misappropriation and seeks punitive damages and a permanent injunction on the sale of the two records although they do admit it isn’t noticeable to the causal listener. The Beastie Boys replied, “Because Plaintiff admits that the casual observer cannot identify Plaintiff’s musical compositions and sound recordings there can be no substantial similarity.”
Lee Hutson of the R&B group The Impressions is no stranger to hauling artists into court over sampling issues. His latest target is rapper Jeezy and the song in question is “Time.” Hutson alleges that the Atlanta rapper’s song incorporates an instrumental from his own 1973 song “Getting It On” without permission. Although Jeezy released the song in 2010, it was two years later when Hutson’s daughter brought the sampled song to his attention. In the lawsuit, the Plaintiff is seeking “statutory and actual damages, temporary and permanent orders impounding and disposing of all allegedly infringing materials, attorneys’ fees, and costs.”