TufAmerica, a record label notorious for bringing previous lawsuits against the likes of Jay Z (“Run This Town”) and Beastie Boys (“The New Style” and “Hold It Now, Hit It”), has turned its sites towards Frank Ocean’s “Super Rich Kids” track which appears on his last album, Channel Orange. As stated within the lawsuit, “Super Rich Kids” contains a sample of Mary J. Blige’s song “Real Love,” which TufAmerica claims to have a 3.15 % interest in. According to TufAmerica, their ownership interest in “Real Love” is due to a “consequence of a series of agreements relating to ‘Impeach the President” which they own the rights to.
As reported by the Hollywood Reporter, the suit against Universal Music Group and Vivendi is not over the Ocean song per se, but specifically claims that Blige’s “Real Love” illegally sampled the Honeydrippers’ 1973 tune “Impeach the President.” “In other words, Ocean’s song is claimed to include a sample of a song that itself is a sample.” Though TufAmerica has not revealed how much they are suing Universal and Vivendi for, claims have been made for “compensatory or statutory or punitive damages in an amount to be proven at trial.”
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?
Creators of works of art, in this case lyrics and underline music (beats, arrangements, etc.), have an ownership interest in what they create. This includes rights to control how it is recorded, distributed, performed, reproduced, displayed, etc. (The technical five fundamental rights are the rights of reproduction, adaptation, publication, performances and display.) Most, if not all, songs you hear on the radio, on the internet and on television have been registered with the Library of Congress for copyright protection.
In order to legally and rightfully utilize the work of others, even for purposes of sampling or making what may be considered a derivative work from another song, a record label or artist must negotiate and enter into a licensing agreement with the owners and publishers of the work. This includes paying a licensing fee and possibly a percentage of royalties. TufAmerica is claiming that Universal Music Group and Vivendi have “failed and refused to secure a license from TufAmerica for its share of the rights to use ‘Real Love’ in ‘Super Rich Kids’.”
HOW DOES THIS AFFECT YOU?
If you are an artist, whether it is music, art, television, etc., it is imperative to protect your work on a national level by filing copyright application for what you created. Additionally, if you are creating work, that is or may be a derivative of a previous work or includes a sample of a work owned by another party, permission is required by way of a license or purchase, and royalties and fees must be paid in order to avoid a lawsuit.
I am certain this matter will be rectified before proceeding to trial.
Rashida Maples, Esq. is Founder and Managing Partner of J. Maples & Associates (www.jmaplesandassociates.com). She has practiced Entertainment, Real Estate and Small Business Law for 9 years, handling both transactional and litigation matters. Her clients include R&B Artists Bilal and Olivia, NFL Superstar Ray Lewis, Fashion Powerhouse Harlem’s Fashion Row and Hirschfeld Properties, LLC.
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