Michael Jackson and Rihanna Both Get Sued Over a 1972 Tune

from the ma-ma-se,-ma-ma-sa,-ma-ma-sue dept

At 75, an artist may be too old to write a new hit single, but that doesn’t make them too old to sue someone famous with a new hit single for a large sum of money over 10 syllables from a 37-year-old song. Cameroonian artist, Manu Dibango, is suing both Michael Jackson and Rihanna for copyright infringement over his 1972 hit, Soul Makossa. The complicating factor is that Jackson was already sued decades ago for infringing the tune in his 1983 single, Wanna Be Startin’ Something, and he had settled with Dibango, but now he’s under fire again for allegedly licensing the infringing bit to Rihanna for her 2007 hit, Please Don’t Stop the Music, without contacting Dibango to get permission. According to Wikipedia, Soul Makossa features a Duala chant, “Mama-ko, mama-sa, ma-ka-ma-ko-ssa,” while a similar sounding Swahili chant, “Ma Ma Se, Ma Ma Sa, Ma Ma Coo Sa,” appears in both Jackson’s and Rihanna’s song. Dibango is demanding €500,000, and that the courts block the labels from receiving any money from the allegedly infringing tunes until the matter is resolved.

Dibango has a history of making great music, but more recently, he served as President of the Cameroon Music Corporation, where he was known for defending intellectual property rights and fighting piracy. It’s a real shame that you need to hire a law firm to make use of a catchy phrase from another song, but I guess that’s what happens when everyone is focused on “protecting” their rights, rather than on making music.

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Comments on “Michael Jackson and Rihanna Both Get Sued Over a 1972 Tune”

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49 Comments
moore850 (profile) says:

Hook

So what you’re saying is that I should be able to borrow the hook from any song for free. So I should be able to just take “She loves you yeah, yeah, yeah” and put it into a song without paying anyone anything? Can I just take some Jimi Hendrix solos and add them for free into my songs? That sure would make it sound like I knew how to write great hooks, if I could “borrow” others’ hooks for free and profit from that.

Mart says:

Re: Hook

@moore850

Sure, why not? You think you can do it better than the beatles? Even more laughable, you think you can outperform Hendrix? Best of luck to you!

But even if you could, I don’t see the problem. You really think people would listen to Hendrix or the Beatles less if it had been covered by you? Come on.

Music Fan says:

Re: Re: Hook

Building on Mart’s final point, one of my favorite groups, Three 6 Mafia, used to (more so in their early stuff) sample from all kinds of stuff, even a lot of their own. Every time they put out a new album, I hunted through it for recognizable samples, and then would hunt down the sampled song to listen to it again.

Hearing music makes you want to hear more music, stop trying to fight that.

kasey jones says:

Re: Re: Re;hook

so what if michael took the song it’s michael jackson for goodness sake if i was this man i’d tell you i would not have the guts to sue him he’s the king of pop just leave him alone and before you know it it will be all forgotten so what it’s just a song if they wanted to repeat it then let him and by the way michael would have sang it better any way leave hom alone he will always be able to sing better and dance better than any body else just let him be!!!!!! he can do it better than the beatles any way

kasey jones says:

Re: Re: Hook

michael jackson can sing better thasn the beatles any way the song would have soundeed better then the cruddy beatles yeah so what they’ve been around longer but he’s the best singer you could ever imagine you dont have to sue him just for taking a son i t is just so ridiculous for god sake just let him alone ana all will be alright just let it go if you keep on talking about it it’s just gonna get pathetic so just back off!!!!!!

Your Gawd and Master says:

Re: Hook

How the hell did you come to that conclusion?

I’m not one to defend Michael but that chant is far from “the hook” as compared to “She loves you yeah, yeah, yeah”.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dPTsmswQVwg

The use of that chant was used during a breakdown but not much else. So what were you saying again?

kasey jones says:

Re: Re: Hook

so what if you’re not one to defend michael but for god sake i am so he took a song let it be and i’ll flaming tell you something i am one to defen michael jackson and if he’s was still alive i would tell him right now that i was on his side and never ever ake sides with anyone else but him so just leave him alone you horribe let him be don’t argue about a flaming stupid little thing like taking a song he can do what he wants

Blaise Alleyne (profile) says:

Re: Hook

To add one more point to all the other great replies… even if you insist on requiring permission, it’s a bit silly that someone like Rihanna goes and asks permission from the owners of the song she was borrowing from, but still has to have the legal means to handle a half million euro lawsuit in case someone, somewhere further down the chain of rights gets offended.

How is an emerging artist (i.e. someone who isn’t rich) even supposed to begin to play that game? With this system, culture is only accessible to the rich; it’s a €500,000 risk to use a phrase from a popular song, even if you try to get the rights.

I know says:

Re: Folk Chants

This is not correct. The full phrase is a creation of Manu Dibango in the Douala (Duala) language. This was not a folk song that he reproduced. He sings in the Douala language and the Douala music is called Makossa. It was Manu Dibango who put the words together in that order and to that beat. It would be like someone singing: “Just Beat It, Beat It, Beat It, Beat It” to the same tune as MJ and claim it as their own. Let Rihanna and MJ pay up.

Anonymous Coward says:

So what you’re saying is that I should be able to borrow the hook from any song for free. So I should be able to just take “She loves you yeah, yeah, yeah” and put it into a song without paying anyone anything?

Actually, yes, you should be able to. That’s the whole point. The article is about 10 words/syllables. Your example is 6. How about making it infringing to use just 3? How about 1?

At what nonsensical point does this debate have to reach in order for the question to become about the expression instead of the syntax? Consider this argument carried over to literature. How many books would be “infringing” someone else’s book because they happened to use the same 6 or 10 words?

DanC says:

Re: Re:

In my eyes it only makes sense to sue. Back in 1972, Jackson seems to have settled this case thereby implicating that he did ‘steal’ this.

Therein lies the problem. It’s unfortunately more cost effective to settle a lawsuit than go through the court system. And every settlement creates the false impression that the lawsuit was valid simply because it was settled, as this user mistakenly assumes.

A settlement does not necessarily imply guilt – it simply means it was easier to pay up front than go through the more costly legal wranglings. That’s why most settlements include the “admit to no wrongdoings” language.

Now, almost 40 years later, he sells something he already said he stole.

Unless he admitted to infringement in the settlement, you’re completely wrong.

Xiera says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

From the first post in this chain…

“In my eyes it only makes sense to sue. Back in 1972, Jackson seems to have settled this case thereby implicating that he did ‘steal’ this. Now, almost 40 years later, he sells something he already said he stole. Maybe Rihanna will be let off the hook, but sounds like free money from MJ…”

Specifically, “Back in 1972, Jackson seems to have settled this case…”. So someone did say that Jackson was sued in 1972.

Who’s the tool?

Artist says:

Anyone stating, you should be able to STEAL, yes steal any part of anyone’s song to make into your “own” without consent or payment…clearly has never written anything. End of story.

BTW…I wrote a tribute song to John Bonham. I wanted some Bonham licks and pieces (literally no more than 5 seconds) of Led Zeppelin songs. Their publisher denied my request. That’s just the way it goes. You can’t be angry. An artist dreams up something, out of thin air. They should be able to decide HOW, WHEN and at what cost (if any) it should be used.

Blaise Alleyne (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Anyone stating, you should be able to STEAL, yes steal any part of anyone’s song to make into your “own” without consent or payment… clearly has never written anything. End of story.

Copyright infringement isn’t stealing, it’s copyright infringement. Stealing removes the object in question from the possession of the owner.

That’s just the way it goes. You can’t be angry. An artist dreams up something, out of thin air. They should be able to decide HOW, WHEN and at what cost (if any) it should be used.

Do you honestly believe an artist “dreams up something, out of thin air?” Where do you think the chant that Dibango used comes from? Art doesn’t come from thin air. It’s a reflection of society and experience and inspiration.

The main problem with your entire comment is the limits of ownership. Jackson and Rihanna aren’t even saying the same thing that Dibango did, and the music is entirely different. Is that the same? If so, how different does it have to be? How many words, notes, etc… It’s not as simple as you make it out to be.

Once you trace things back up the chain of inspiration, you can have many “owners,” many variations on the expression of an idea (or even transformative expressions)… and even after you establish the “owners,” you’re still faced with the question of what ownership means. Who owns an expression of an idea is not as obvious as the question of who owns a physical thing.

What do you think the extent of ownership is on a 10 syllable chant in a song?

Artist says:

You’re focusing on this particular piece, I’m focusing on the comment above, regarding the ability to use any thing you want to create music.

People “copy” all the time…the idea is to create something NEW out of it, not reuse the exact same thing. I have a close friend who wrote a hit song in the 80’s. You’d know it if you heard it. The riff is a Beatles riff, played backwards, with different phrasing. It’s not copying, because the out “thin air” part was the idea to take something that existed, CHANGE it and make it into something new.

As for this particular story. I haven’t heard the chant, the original 1972 song, or the “Stolen” piece by Rhianna/MJ, so I have no opinion on whether it’s copied.

Taking the riff to Day Tripper, putting new words is NOT original. That is what the original poster suggested.

Blaise Alleyne (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Two points:

(1) Let’s take a case where, for the sake of argument, there are no significant changes and a derivative isn’t “something new,” whatever that means. For the sake of argument, let’s say that putting new words over the Day Tripper riff is not original. (a) Who would even care about the derivative song if it didn’t add value in some way, if it wasn’t somehow original? (b) If no one cares about it… what’s the harm being done to the Beatles? Sure, it might be terrible or useless, but should that get the law involved?

“That’s just the way it goes”: right now that a publisher can deny your request to create a song using Bonham licks, you as an artist need someone else’s permission to create, but does that have to be how it goes? What benefit is the system providing?

(2) I was focusing on this particular example to make a broader point. Where do you define the limits for ownership? You have to get the permission of a publisher to use Bonham’s licks, but you can just fill out some forms and pay the royalties if you wanted to cover an entire song. And, to take the Beatles riff and reverse it and change the phrasing isn’t considered infringement. It’s not clear to me what should be considered infringement, what should require permission and what should simply require that royalties be paid. The system seems to be a real patchwork, rather than anything well thought out.

It’s not clear legally when you’ve created something “new.” I’m pretty sure that people aren’t listened to Rihanna’s song in place of Dibango’s.

EA says:

okay

First of all, does anyone have an actual sound bit of the chant? From reading the words, it actually seems VERY similar to what MJ used in his song.

Secondly, I only remember that hook from MJ’s song and actually, it is not a hook, the people are actually CHANTING-hummm. How many other folks remember the entire song and not just that chant? That chant made the song the success that it was, coupled with the singer.

Thirdly, Rihanna, best wishes to her, but her people did not do their homework-i remember this case. It is that simple. She needs new people.

Lastly, what does it matter what the chant actually means? No one knows what it means; I did not know then and I dont know now, all I know is that MJ sang it.

SomeGuy says:

Re: Yall are crazy

Stole it? What does that mean? I mean, really? The ’72 song still exists. Jackson didn’t actually take the words from the song, leaving dead space. He used the same words. And they’re good words. And they aren’t words that were made up by Dibango; he didn’t invent the words.

Are you concerned Jackson is riding on the popularity of a song that was a decade old at the time? Are you concerned that Rhianna is riding the popularity of a song that’s older than most of her audience? What’s really the problem here?

Mark Vehec says:

Simply this ...

A big fan of Dibango, but not letting that cloud my perception of this. The bigger problem I see with this scenario is that MJ was paid some kind of licensing fee by Rhianna’s folks. If he had passed the request for permission along to Dibango’s folks, we would unlikely be reading about this and taking time to comment on it.

Rhianna did the right thing — try to make sure she had her bases covered. Whether Dibango can legally claim he has rights to the chant can be debated forever and likely will be. I place the blame squarely on MJ’s shoulders (or his folks) on this one. He is talented and deserves a place in the music history books, but this action was just plain wrong.

My $.02 🙂

Jack says:

Will I Get Sued For Posting This?

“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination.

Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows.

Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic.

Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent.

And don’t bother concealing your thievery. Celebrate it if you feel like it.

In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.”

– Jim Jarmusch

Jack says:

Re: Will I Get Sued For Posting This?

Personally, I consider it an honor when someone incorporates my ideas into their own.

When I first heard Rihanna’s song, I didn’t know she had borrowed that part from Michael Jackson. Then one day I heard his song at a restaurant and I thought it was really cool that Rihanna was sampling older music in her new music. It’s a great way to pay tribute to someone – especially if it attracts More attention to the original artist.

Ben (user link) says:

Dibango vs Jackson vs Rihanna

i’m no great believer in strict intellectual property rights, especially when it comes to music

i think Dibango should be grateful to both Jackson and Rihanna for re-popularising his original awesome afro-disco-funk track

everyone is constantly lifting stuff from each other; let the ideas flow, i say. in the words of rihanna, “please don’t stop the music”. look at how complex the chains can get:

http://www.whosampled.com/sample/view/488/Michael%20Jackson-Wanna%20Be%20Startin%27%20Somethin%27_Manu%20Dibango-Soul%20Makossa/

for the record, MJ imparted something extra in rhythm, actual notes hit, words used… i think he was generous to give Dibango anything

and out of all three MJ did it best:

http://bit.ly/9IqbQZ

hs17 (user link) says:

okay

I hate to disappoint but the chant at the end of the song is not what “makes it.” Wanna Be Startin something and the rhythm and melodies are nothing like Dibango’s Soul Makousa. The chant he sued MJ over is only at the end of Wanna be Starting Something which is about a girl named Billie Jean that is always lying, and scheming and trying to get something started with her fork tongue, and about believing in yourself, he talks about if you don’t want a baby don’t have a baby, cause you will always be trying to stop the baby from crying. It is a great song but not because of the chant. The song has been recognized for it unique layers of beats. There are 11 verses before MJ chant’s “Ma ma sa, ma ma coo sa Ma ma se, ma ma sa, ma coo sa” at the end of the song! There are not even identical. If he settled it probably was because it was cheaper than spending years in court. This is only one song on Thriller. Thriller, Billie Jean and Beat it were the top selling and charting songs on the Thriller album.

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