It is quite common for the federal courts to see copyright infringement in the music industry. While those who file suit are often unknown artists, there are also cases in which known artists file suit against singers/songwriters/producers for infringement.
Some of these cases have garnered a great deal of media attention (does anyone recall the Queen/Vanilla Ice debacle?) while others are settled rather quickly.
Within the past couple of weeks, two debates on these topics have arisen. The debates highlight separate issues with respect to copyright infringement as well as the often blurred lines that define it.
A case between the estate of Marvin Gaye and his band the Funkadelics and singer Robin Thicke ended up in federal court in California over Thicke’s ultra-popular summer hit, “Blurred Lines”. Representatives for Gaye claimed that the song closely resembled several of Gaye’s songs. However, Thicke’s attorneys argued that they shouldn’t be allowed to control an entire genre through copyright laws.
This is where copyright with respect to the arts can be difficult. It is certainly true that artists’ creativity should be protected, but when it comes to the composition of music, the reuse of certain fundamental blocks can sometimes be mistaken as copyright infringement.
An important aspect in deciding whether or not copyright infringement occurred is whether or not the accused party was capable of hearing the song in question. With the Marvin Gaye/ Robin Thicke debate, it is pretty clear that Thicke would have had access to Gaye’s music. However, in the next example, those issues were less clear.
Underground Chicago artist Clive Tanka filed suit Tuesday against popular female rap artist Nikki Minaj, over the unlawful use of his music for last year’s popular song, “Starships”. While Tanka’s name is not as well-known as an artist of the likes of Marvin Gaye, due mostly in part to his reclusive nature, his music has won several awards.
According to the lawsuit, Minaj and several others used parts of his 2011 song entitled, “Neu Chicago”, which had been widely listened to throughout the United States prior to “Starships” being written.
The interesting part of this case comes next:
According to the lawsuit, the song aired as part of two popular commercials in Sweden, one for a clothing retailer and another for a beverage company. RedOne and other collaborators of Minaj are from Sweden. If Tanka’s lawyers are able to prove that the writers of “Starship” were living in Sweden when Tanka’s song aired, they will have a much better shot at winning the case.
While there are many other factors that go into determining whether or not copyright infringement has occurred, the aforementioned cases are two interesting examples of cases that are brought to the federal court.