US: Will you be “Sorry for Party Rocking” if you are liable for copyright infringement?


[co-author: Jennifer Griffin]

William L. Roberts II, aka hip-hop rapper Rick Ross, singer of 2006 number 1?Hustlin’” filed a claim for copyright infringement in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida against brothers Stefan Kendal and Skyler Austen Gordy, who form the group LMFAO, for their hit single “Party Rock Anthem” from their album “Sorry for Party Rockin’”, on 31 December 2013. 

Ross asserts that the “very popular and highly recognisable” hook phrase “everyday I’m hustlin’” in Ross’ hit prominently featured at key points in “Party Rock Anthem”. He asserts that, despite the slight change of the wording to “everyday I’m shufflin’”, the phrase is performed in a manner to sound like “everyday I’m hustlin’” to capitalise on the fame and success of “Hustlin’”. He alleges that this constitutes the creation of an unauthorised derivative work.  He also claims that the Defendants were wholly influenced by hip hop and rap music, and were almost certainly exposed to such a high selling single (over 5,600,000 copies of “Hustlin’” were sold).  According to the complaint, “Party Rock Anthem” has sold 9.7 million copies and been licensed repeatedly by LMFAO, appearing in films, television shows and advertisements.

The cause of action under US law is a copyright infringement under 17 U.S.C.106 (2), unauthorised preparation of derivative work based on the copyrighted work.  To prove such an infringement of the rights, ownership of copyright and unauthorised copying of protected elements by the Defendant constituting unlawful appropriation must be proven.  Unauthorised copying can either be a direct and obvious copy of the original, or that the two works are substantially similar.  In order to ascertain whether the works are substantially similar there needs to be articulable similarities, and an ordinary audience member would find the two works in their entirety substantially similar. Further it needs to be proven that the alleged infringer has had exposure to and has been influenced by the original work.

Ross is claiming maximum statutory damages under 17 U.S.C.504 (c) or to recover actual damages and profits attributable to infringement under 17 U.S.C.504 (b).Ross is also seeking an injunction restraining further use of the music. 

It remains to be seen how the Defendants will respond.  Incidentally, Ross has recently won a case with former drug dealer, Ricky Ross, who had claimed Rick Ross appropriated his name and likeness.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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