Judge Tosses Rick Ross' Copyright Suit Over LMFAO's Use Of Derivative Three-Word Phrase

from the every-day-i'm-writing dept

It’s been less than a year since we discussed LMFAO, the band, and its attempt to bully a brewery into renaming its beer called LMFAO with intellectual property threats. Well, the bro-rock duo is back in the IP spotlight again, but this time with a win. Rick Ross had long ago sued LMFAO over its hit song Party Rock Anthem for including a line, “Everyday I’m shufflin’.” Ross had his own hit song called Hustlin, which famously contained the line “Everyday I’m hustlin’,” and Ross argued for copyright infringement, claiming LMFAO’s lyric was an unauthorized derivative work.

Well, if such a slight homage between music artists doesn’t strike you as something which should amount to copyright infringement, then the court in this case readily agrees with you.

In her opinion, U.S. District Court judge Kathleen M. Williams says the two years of litigation in this case ended where it should have begun — by asking “was the musical composition ‘Hustlin’’ validly registered with the Copyright Office, and, if so, do Plaintiffs have an ownership interest in the exclusive right to prepare derivative works for the musical composition ‘Hustlin’’?”

Williams’ answer to both questions is “no.”

“Because Plaintiffs do not hold a valid copyright registration and because Plaintiffs have not established either legal or beneficial ownership of the exclusive right to prepare derivative works for ‘Hustlin’,’ Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment is DENIED and this case is DISMISSED,” she writes.

This decision isn’t shocking, considering Williams previously found the three-word phrase not original enough to be copyrightable for use on merchandise.

And Ross in particular should really know better. Hip hop and rap are largely built on music samples and poetic lyrics that regularly borrow, imitate, and offer homages to acts that came before it. This liberal working and re-working of music that came before it is what has helped the genre explode into popularity. To not only sue over that, but to do so over a three-word phrase that wasn’t even identical smacks of all kinds of silly.

And there appeared to be three different copyright registrations for Hustlin for some reason as well, which Williams calls out in her opinion. Those registrations appear to be riddled with errors as well. If you’re going to sue for copyright infringement over a three-word phrase for which you claim such importance, it would seem reasonable to think that you might at least get the registrations with the Copyright Office straight, no?

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Comments on “Judge Tosses Rick Ross' Copyright Suit Over LMFAO's Use Of Derivative Three-Word Phrase”

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5 Comments
aidian says:

And Rick Ross is ACTUALLY stealing...

…someone’s image. The hip-hop guy going by Rick Ross is a former prison guard who essentially stole the identity of Freeway Ricky Ross, a big time coke dealer who helped popularize crack in the 80s. Ricky Ross got out of prison a couple of years ago (lucky legal victory…he was sentenced to like a million years and it got overturned) and sued the imposter Ross. Case got tossed out, but in the ruling the judge said that rapper Rick stole the phrase “hustling every day’ from the dealer Ricky Ross.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: And Rick Ross is ACTUALLY stealing...

Except he’s not. Your own words nixes the image theft issue. “Case got tossed out.” That means nothing actionable. All artists are standing on the backs of others that came before even in different genres.

You can’t steal ideas. You can be inspired. Legally you can infringe on an exclusive temporary right to use — but ideas, phrases, and words aren’t stolen.

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