Beyonce Wins Her Own Copyright Case The Same Day Husband Jay-Z Wins His Copyright Case

from the copyright-power-couple? dept

Lots of people like to compare the career status of husband-and-wife superstar musicians Jay-Z and Beyonce, looking at who has hit songs at what times, and who’s doing better than the other. It appears that this past Wednesday the two also had something else in common to celebrate: they both won nutty copyright lawsuits. The Jay-Z victory in the lawsuit over samples in his hit song “Big Pimpin'” got most of the attention, but Beyonce was actually similarly victorious the same day in a case brought against her by Ahmad Javon Lane, who claimed that Beyonce’s song “XO” infringed on his song “XOXO.”

Except, it didn’t. Not by a long shot. While both songs have “XO” in the title, that appears to be about where the similarities end.

There are all sorts of problems with Lane’s lawsuit. First, he only registered the copyright on his lyrics, not the music, and Beyonce’s song has totally different lyrics. The beat he used was actually produced by someone else, David Abisinito, and while Lane did have an exclusive license to use the beat, which would allow him to sue over it, he failed to show that Abisinito ever registered the copyright on the beat. While you can still hold a copyright over something without registering it, you can’t sue without registering — so any copyright claim on the beat has no standing.

Here, Lane has provided a copy of the copyright registration certificate, which clearly states that Lane is the copyright claimant as to XOXO?s lyrics…. Lane, however, does not claim infringement of XOXO?s lyrics, but only its music, and the copyright certificate excludes rights to the music. Lane?s argument as to the music is that he has standing to sue for its infringement because, under the Production Agreement, he was granted exclusive rights to use the Beat…. It is true that ?persons who have been granted exclusive licenses by owners of copyrights? have standing to sue for copyright infringement…. But Lane has failed to allege that Abisinito, the owner of the Beat who licensed use of it to Lane, has a validly registered copyright in the Beat. Such an allegation is a prerequisite for bringing a copyright infringement claim….

Lane?s copyright infringement claim must therefore be dismissed for lack of standing. However, the infirmities affecting Lane?s standing are potentially correctable: Lane could potentially amend the SAC to allege that Abisinito has a validly registered copyright in the Beat, or Lane himself could potentially obtain a copyright registration in the XOXO music.

Given that, the court suggests dismissing the case without prejudice, leaving it open for Lane to refile with evidence that the beat or the entire song was registered… but then digs a little deeper, and notes that even if there were a valid copyright registration there is no copyright infringement. What little “similarities” there are between the two songs are not even close to touching on copyright protected material. In case you’re interested, here are the two songs, with Beyonce’s XO first and Javon’s XOXO second:

They’re totally different songs. Lane argued that both use similar four-bar phrases at the beginning, but similar doesn’t matter (well, except in that one case). Here, at least, the very minor “similarity” between the four-bar phrases at the beginning doesn’t matter:

Judge Conger?s decision in Jones v. Supreme Music Corp…. which also involved allegedly similar four-bar phrases, is instructive. There, the plaintiff, an author of a song, claimed that defendants had copied that song. Id. at 990. Specifically, the plaintiff alleged that eight of the first 10 notes in the first five bars of her song were identical to eight of defendant?s nine notes in the same five bars…. Upon comparing the songs, Judge Conger found that only the ?first four bars of each piece? were similar, and held that such similarity ?do[es] not spell piracy or theft.? … Similarly, here, XO?s and XOXO?s use of a common four-bar phrase, if found, would not establish substantial similarity between them.

What about substantial similarity in the songs in general? Er… nope.

The lyrics of the two songs are reproduced in full in Appendix A to this decision. The Court, after listening to both songs and reviewing their lyrics, finds that no reasonable jury could find the lyrics of XO and XOXO substantially similar. Indeed, aside from the fact that both songs? lyrics use the letters ?X? and ?O,? there is virtually nothing common to the two songs? lyrics. The use in music or other parlance of these two letters is hardly unusual. ?XOXO? is commonly used in society, including in letters and electronic communications, to signify ?kisses and hugs.? … The letters ?X? and ?O? are also used in a host of other quotidian applications, including, for generations, by players of tic-tac-toe….

Notably, too, the two songs deploy the letters ?X? and ?O? differently. Lane sings ?Thinking about your X, O? and ?In lust, O,? whereas Beyonce sings: ?I love you like XO, You love me like XO, You kill me boy XO, You love me like XO.? Beyonce?s song thus consistently uses ?XO? as a single expression; Lane sometimes uses ?O? alone.

Broadening the analysis beyond the fact that the songs both use those two letters, the choruses of the two songs have no words in common, save the musically ubiquitous words ?I,? ?you,? ?your,? ?is,? and ?baby?

In other words, not only are the songs not the same, they don’t even have similar lyrics or concepts. Just a similar name.

Just to make sure, the court compares the music even more between the two songs and notes:

… the Court, having listened to the two songs back to back, finds little, if anything, in common between XOXO and XO.

It notes a variety of differences in styles and music and tempo, and then that “the melodies of the two songs are completely different.” In other words, there’s nothing copied here at all.

Oh, and there was one other argument that Lane made that was so ridiculous the Court didn’t even bother to respond. Lane argued that the two songs were marketed in the same way, including similar promotional artwork and images of both artists in jeans and a white tank top.

Of course, what that has to do with copyright in a song is… anyone’s guess. Once again this looks like a case where someone thinks that copyright gives one a lot more rights than it really does. It does not allow you to block something “vaguely similar, maybe if you squint.”

Either way, one hopes that Jay-Z and Beyonce were able to enjoy the fact that both of them won nutty copyright lawsuits on the very same day.

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Comments on “Beyonce Wins Her Own Copyright Case The Same Day Husband Jay-Z Wins His Copyright Case”

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Anonymous Coward says:

As a musician who has recorded actual releases before (we only had 2 vinyl EP’s so what?) and a music collector…..what in the hell? So many bands have the exact same titles for songs, so many bands have guitar riffs that are the exact same as the other (without knowing of the other band in 99% of cases). Even bands on major labels (not mentioning the large indie label that the RIAA added to their list of members without asking three times until the owner had to threaten them with court) don’t generally care, leave it to top 40 hacks like these 2 untalented ProTools abusing idiots to take such actions.

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