10 December 2014Copyright

Jay Z triumphs in ‘one syllable’ copyright lawsuit

A US court has dismissed a lawsuit in which rap artist Jay Z was accused of infringing copyright through the use of one syllable.

In a ruling at the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, record label TufAmerica's claim that Jay Z and his own record company illegally sampled the word “oh” in his 2009 song, Run This Town, was thrown out.

Dismissing the case, Judge Lewis Kaplan said the word is widely used and therefore not deserving of copyright protection.

The lawsuit arose in November last year, when TufAmerica filed a complaint alleging that Run This Town sampled singer Eddie Bo’s song Hook & Sling Part I, released in the 1990s, without permission.

In September, WIPR reported that Jay Z, real name Shawn Carter, had filed a motion to dismiss and accused the plaintiff of asserting a “fleeting and generic” phrase.

In his decision, published on December 8, Kaplan said Run This Town “bears very little and perhaps no similarity at all” to Hook & Sling Part I.

“The lyrics do not contain the word ‘oh.’ And while the court assumes, as plaintiff contends, that the alleged ‘sample’ of that word appears in the accused recording and video 42 separate times, it must be said also that it does so, if at all, only in the background and in such a way as to be audible and aurally intelligible only to the most attentive and capable listener,” Kaplan wrote.

He added: “In order to establish unauthorised copying, the plaintiff ‘must demonstrate that: (1) the defendant has actually copied the plaintiff’s work; and the copying is illegal because a substantial similarity exists between the defendant’s work and the protectible elements of plaintiff’s,’” Kaplan said.

Last month, WIPR reported that Jay Z, along with fellow artists Kanye West and Frank Ocean, had been accused by musician Joel Mac of stealing the name of the song, Made in America, as well as copying other elements including its tune. Made in America was a collaborative song that featured in the hit album Watch the Throne by Jay Z and Kanye West.

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