We reported last year that the US rapper Shawn Carter, better known as Jay-Z, had successfully defended a claim for copyright infringement brought by a sound engineer in respect of three albums produced by the singer’s record label. The defence was successful on the basis that, whilst the copyright in the material was first registered in 2000, the claim was not brought until 2014; well after the statutory limitation period had expired under US law.
This appears to be a recurring theme in US copyright lawsuits brought against US rappers.
The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has recently upheld a lower court ruling in favour of Curtis Jackson, better known as 50 Cent, in respect of a claim brought by musician Tyrone Simmons who claimed that 50 Cent’s 2007 song “I Get Money” includes a beat created by music producer William Stanberry. Stanberry and Simmons allegedly agreed a deal in 2006 by which Simmons became the exclusive licensee of the beat. Stanberry reportedly then allowed 50 Cent to use the beat and subsequently informed Simmons that he was no longer the exclusive licensee of the beat.
Simmons instituted proceedings in 2010, however his action was dismissed on the basis that it was brought out of time. Under US copyright law, claims for copyright infringement must be filed within three years of the date of the alleged infringement.
The Second Circuit has upheld that decision, ruling that because Simmons was aware of the alleged infringement of his rights and waited for more than three years before bringing his claim, the action was time-barred.
A problem for claimants in cases of this type is that a song may not achieve substantial sales until some years after the alleged infringement – by which time the time limit for instituting proceedings may have expired. In other words, a potential claimant may only be prompted to think of copyright when it is too late.