Thursday, January 9, 2014

Another Year Another Lawsuit: Hustlin' v. Shufflin'

Another year, another lawsuit.

            On New Year's Eve, hip hop star Rick Ross and two compatriots filed suit in Florida District Court against Stefan and Skyler Gordy, better known as LMFAO (and also, relatives of Berry Gordy) claiming, essentially that the duo's hit "Party Rock Anthem" with its now-famous refrain "Every day I'm shuffling") infringes upon his 2006 hit "Hustlin'" with its equally famous refrain "Every day I'm hustlin' …").  For good measure, Ross has also sued LMFAO's copyright administrator and Kia which used the song in a commercial.  In addition to asking for damages for willful copyright infringement, Ross also asked for an injunction and destruction of the allegedly infringing works,  which seems unusual given the  fact that the LMFAO track was released in 2010.

            This has the makings of a fascinating case.  On the one hand the Copyright Office has stated that short phrases in and of themselves cannot be protected by copyright.  Yet there was a recent decision in the Sixth Circuit finding that the phrase "Bow wow wow yippie yo yippie yay" (from George Clinton's song "Atomic Dog") was capable of copyright protection. On another level altogether reasonable minds might find that LMFAO's reference to "Every day I'm hustlin'" is a fair use protected parody of the older song.  Of course, as an aside back in the less litigious past it was quite common for songs to make passing reference to older songs. 

            As far as I know, there has been no responsive pleading filed yet but if this case proceeds it will be fascinating for hip hop fans and copyright nerds alike.

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