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.


Reader Comments (rss)

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  1.  
    icon
    moore850 (profile), Feb 10th, 2009 @ 7:31am

    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.

     

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  2.  
    identicon
    Mart, Feb 10th, 2009 @ 7:39am

    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.

     

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  3.  
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    Your Gawd and Master, Feb 10th, 2009 @ 7:46am

    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?

     

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  4.  
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    Esahc (profile), Feb 10th, 2009 @ 7:52am

    Folk Chants

    Ok, so let me get this straight. . .

    The guy who "stole" a folk chant from the Duala people of Cameroon (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duala_people) is now claiming ownership of that chant and any chant that sounds similar?

     

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  5.  
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    Music Fan, Feb 10th, 2009 @ 7:53am

    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.

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 10th, 2009 @ 8:00am


    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?

     

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  7.  
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    Suberbs, Feb 10th, 2009 @ 8:36am

    BHG

    The Bloodhound Gang has a song with the same phrase in it better sue them too, hell its even the title for the song. This is ridiculous like Rhianna doesn't have enough crap going on right now.

     

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  8.  
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    Blaise Alleyne (profile), Feb 10th, 2009 @ 9:10am

    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.

     

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  9.  
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    Josh, Feb 10th, 2009 @ 9:20am

    !swahili

    I have it on good source that this is *not* Swahili. Please try again.

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 10th, 2009 @ 9:37am

    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...

     

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  11.  
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    DanC, Feb 10th, 2009 @ 9:50am

    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.

     

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  12.  
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    cvpunk, Feb 10th, 2009 @ 10:00am

    Re:

    that would have been the '80's, not 1972. I believe the song Jackson used that one was on the Thriller LP.

     

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  13.  
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    Josh, Feb 10th, 2009 @ 10:11am

    Re: Re:

    RTFA... the Manu Dibango song is from '72

     

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  14.  
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    eleete, Feb 10th, 2009 @ 10:25am

    Re: Hook

    I think Mice should come with a credit card reader, that way every time I go to Paste something, I have to pay someone for the honor.

     

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  15.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 10th, 2009 @ 10:38am

    written language.

    Doesn't something have to be an actual written language for someone to be able to copyright it?

     

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  16.  
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    Your Gawd and Master, Feb 10th, 2009 @ 10:47am

    Re: Re: Re:

    RTFA yourself, MJ's song was 1983. MJ couldn't have been sued in 1972 for a song he had not yet created.

     

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  17.  
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    Me, Feb 10th, 2009 @ 11:02am

    Re: !swahili

    Being fluent in swahili, I'd not jump too quick on this. One of his other songs (I think it's actually the same) says... "Nakupenda pia, nakutaka pia, penzi we..." which is swahili for I like/love you, I want you, friend/lover (direct translation.

     

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  18.  
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    Johndifo, Feb 10th, 2009 @ 11:34am

    John Seb. Bach already made that sequence in one of his endless partitas. Bach already made all melodic combinations possible.

     

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  19.  
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    Your Gawd and Master is a tool, Feb 10th, 2009 @ 11:40am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Look here moron. No one said Jackson was sued in 1972. That is when the song was released form the original artist.
    Jackson was sued in 1983 because he used the part from a song published in 1972.
    Get it now, tool?

     

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  20.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 10th, 2009 @ 11:56am

    I recently recorded a fart and was sued by someone claiming they had been farting that way for a long time.

     

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  21.  
    identicon
    fds, Feb 10th, 2009 @ 1:48pm

    sdf

    dfs

     

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  22.  
    identicon
    Xiera, Feb 10th, 2009 @ 1:52pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: 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?

     

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  23.  
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    talisag, Feb 10th, 2009 @ 2:03pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Great comment, people just think that they know it all. I love MJ and I could give less than a damn about what others think of him.

     

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  24.  
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    talisag, Feb 10th, 2009 @ 2:04pm

    Re:

    LMAO, you're great.

     

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  25.  
    identicon
    Artist, Feb 10th, 2009 @ 2:24pm

    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.

     

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  26.  
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    Blaise Alleyne (profile), Feb 10th, 2009 @ 3:44pm

    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?

     

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  27.  
    identicon
    paul, Feb 10th, 2009 @ 4:13pm

    he's only asking for 500,000 euros, im sure Michael Jackson or Rihanna earn that in a couple of hours

     

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  28.  
    identicon
    Artist, Feb 10th, 2009 @ 4:23pm

    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.

     

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  29.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 10th, 2009 @ 5:21pm

    Re:

    NOTHING comes out of 'thin air.' All art is built upon previous art. The only way to be completely original is to have grown up in a black hole and created something with no contact at all with anyone or anything.

     

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  30.  
    identicon
    EA, Feb 10th, 2009 @ 6:17pm

    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.

     

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  31.  
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    EA, Feb 10th, 2009 @ 6:38pm

    Yall are crazy

    That is very similar. Check out the video on you tube, first 45 seconds he says it. MJ settled because he stole it.

    Okay and the chant is from Wanna Be Starting Something.

     

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  32.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 11th, 2009 @ 6:14am

    Re: Re:

    Statistically, whatever you come up with has probably already been done by someone else, somewhere else, at some other time, even in the absurd case you give.

     

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  33.  
    identicon
    SomeGuy, Feb 11th, 2009 @ 6:21am

    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?

     

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  34.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 11th, 2009 @ 7:23am

    says it all

    "Ma Ma Se, Ma Ma Sa, Ma Ma Coo Sa" that this is considered intellectual property, is really all you need to know about the concept of intellectual property.

     

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  35.  
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    Blaise Alleyne (profile), Feb 11th, 2009 @ 10:00am

    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.

     

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  36.  
    identicon
    Mark Vehec, Feb 11th, 2009 @ 10:32am

    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 :-)

     

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  37.  
    identicon
    I know, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 2:33pm

    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.

     

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  38.  
    identicon
    Jack, Feb 19th, 2009 @ 6:39am

    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

     

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  39.  
    identicon
    Jack, Feb 19th, 2009 @ 6:42am

    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.

     

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  40.  
    identicon
    kasey jones, Oct 15th, 2009 @ 3:59am

    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

     

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  41.  
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    kasey jones, Oct 15th, 2009 @ 4:04am

    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!!!!!!

     

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  42.  
    identicon
    kasey jones, Oct 15th, 2009 @ 4:12am

    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

     

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  43.  
    identicon
    katherine jewell, Oct 15th, 2009 @ 4:13am

    Re: Re: Re;hook

    yeh kasey you are so totaly right michael is way better than the beatels and michael is the best he is a better dancer than aneyone he is a legand and nopne will tacke that away from him what so ever he will always be the pop king no matter what x we love you michael jakson xxxxxxx

     

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  44.  
    identicon
    Ben, Jun 30th, 2010 @ 1:39am

    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%20Someth in%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

     

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  45.  
    identicon
    nickyb, Mar 20th, 2011 @ 12:41pm

    stupid!!!!! michael and rihanna did it way better!!

     

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  46.  
    identicon
    Dylan, Oct 3rd, 2011 @ 2:57pm

    Is it really his?

    This is like Michael copyrighting hee-hee, hoo, or hoooooooo! It's stupid. Can't the man just let them keep the darn ma-ma- coo-sa's. It's a chant in a different language. He doesn't own it.

     

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  47.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 23rd, 2012 @ 9:06pm

    Michael Jackson







    the and The and the love

     

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  48.  
    identicon
    abbey matheson, Sep 6th, 2013 @ 1:46am

    michael jackson's single "wanna be starting something" wasn't released in 1993, it was released in 1982 from his thriller allbum.

     

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