18 April 2017Copyright

Beyoncé seeks to dismiss $20m copyright suit under fair use

Pop star Beyoncé has tried to dismiss a $20 million copyright claim centring on a sampling in her song and video “Formation”, on the grounds of fair use.

Back in February, the estate of deceased New Orleans rapper Anthony Barré, also known as Messy Mya, brought the lawsuit against Beyoncé and Sony Music at the US District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.

The estate alleged that Beyoncé had misappropriated statements made by Barré in his YouTube videos—such as the phrase “what happened at the New Orleans” and “oh yeah baby. I like that”—in “Formation”.

Released in 2016, “Formation” forms part of Beyoncé’s latest album “Lemonade”.

According to the original claim, the “Formation” video and song allegedly begin with the voice of Barré saying “what happened at the New Orleans” and “bitch I’m back, by popular demand”. It also includes Barré saying “oh yeah baby”.

The estate sought damages, including profits which it believed exceeded $20 million.

Beyoncé hit back on Friday, April 14, arguing that the estate had “grossly overstated” the defendants’ use of Barré’s YouTube videos.

“In reality, the snippets from the YouTube videos were used only in the music video and, to a lesser extent, during the live performances,” said the motion to dismiss.

Another defendant, Pretty Bird, had licensed the videos from Barré’s family before his sister Angel Barré had appointed herself as the administrator of the estate, the motion alleged, adding that this was weeks after the music video’s premiere.

“Even in the absence of a licence, however, the use of ten or fewer seconds of audio from the YouTube videos is protected by the fair use doctrine,” said the motion.

Section 107 of the Copyright Act codifies the fair use doctrine.

The motion added that the video and live performances of “Formation” used the audio as “raw material” that was “transformed in the creation o f new information, new aesthetics, new insights and understandings”.

Barré’s estate had also made a false endorsement claim, alleging that the use of his voice was likely to result in consumers concluding that the estate had granted permission and approved of the use.

“Perhaps anticipating the strength of defendants’ fair use defence, plaintiffs attempt to bootstrap a false endorsement claim onto this straightforward copyright dispute,” Beyoncé responded.

The motion to dismiss added that numerous courts have considered, and “uniformly rejected”, the plaintiffs’ argument that the mere use of a copyrighted work implies an affiliation with the creator or subject of that work.

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More on this story

9 February 2017   Pop star Beyoncé is tangled up in a $20 million copyright claim centring on a sampling in her song and video “Formation”.