Music Producer Challenges Copyright Infringement Allegations Over Hit Rap Song
A Georgia district court has already sided with New Jersey rapper Rackboy Cam in the lawsuit, awarding him $1.4 million and royalties.
ATLANTA (CN) — A rap battle made its way to the 11th Circuit on Tuesday, where judges heard arguments from a producer appealing a ruling that he infringed rapper Rackboy’s copyright. Cam on the 2015 song “Everything Be Lit”.
The New Jersey rapper, real name Anthony Campbell, filed a lawsuit in 2018 against Rayshawn Lamar Bennett, professionally known as “YFN Lucci”, Rakin Hasheem Allen aka “PnB Rock”, Think It’s A Game Records, and producer June James. Campbell claimed that their 2016 song “Everyday We Lit” shared similar lyrics and hooks to the song he released the year before.
Allen reportedly performed Campbell’s song on stage with him, giving him special access to the work.
In 2021, Bill Clinton-appointed Senior U.S. District Court Judge Charles Pannell sided with Campbell, awarding him $1.4 million and barring the defendants from publicly performing or distributing their song, which had already hit the Billboard Hot 100 chart and was certified gold. in 2017.
Campbell also won a 50% royalty, including for the “Everyday We Lit” remix which features well-known hip-hop artists Lil Yachty and Wiz Khalifa.
Bennett and the label paid confidential settlements to Campbell, and the district court granted its motion for default judgment against James and Allen with damages amounts based on their estimated gross profits.
James, however, appealed the court judgment, arguing that he “inappropriately determined” that he was partnered with Allen.
“As a ‘producer,’ he clearly had control over the business,” Campbell’s attorney argued in an appeal brief.
But James’ attorney, Dana Gray, argued before the three-judge panel on Tuesday that since Campbell had included no evidence of that partnership in his original complaint, joint and several liability for his claim for damages was not applicable.
According to Gray, James should not be liable for any damages caused by the defendants in the alleged infringement. Gray said that while Campbell may seek to recoup benefits from James for his alleged individual acts, he has not.
“The court order used these limited facts to create a partnership between two defendants who never even met. There is nothing in the facts to indicate collaboration or joint action with James. The facts about James literally
state that he is credited with creating the music, which is usually done in separate locations and before lyrics are added,” Gray wrote in a memoir. “There is no clear indication that James interacted with any of the parties. There is nothing to indicate what James did in his role as producer. There is no evidence that James had any direct interaction with the plaintiff or his work. Moreover, there is no indication that James even wrote a lyric for the work in question.”
U.S. Circuit Judges Elizabeth Branch and Barbara Lagoa, both Donald Trump appointees, expressed concern over why the district court awarded both the injunction and the running royalties, which are typically used as alternative solution if an injunction is not granted.
Judge Branch told Campbell’s attorney, De Preter, that despite the district court’s advice, he had not properly served James with his amended complaint because the inclusion of joint and several liability was in made new repair requests.
Gray also argued in his brief that Campbell is not entitled to statutory damages due to his failure to obtain copyright registration within the time limits of US copyright law. The attorney wrote that under the law, such “damages cannot be awarded where the effective date of copyright registration was three months after the work was first published or one month after the owner becomes aware of the violation”.
Rounding out the panel of circuit judges was Bill Clinton’s appointee, Judge Charles Wilson. Although the judges did not say when they intended to issue a decision, it seems likely that they will, at least in part, overturn the district court’s decision.
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