In September 2017 IP Harbour reported on the New Zealand High Court battle over the alleged unlawful use of rapper Eminem’s track “Lose Yourself”.
It was alleged that the New Zealand National Party had used the track, called “Eminem Esque”, in a political television campaign in 2014. Eight Mile Style, LLC (represented by Simpsons Solicitor), and Martin Affiliated, LLC, publishers of Eminem’s rights, filed proceedings in 2014 seeking damages for copyright infringement against the New Zealand National Party.
The proceedings in the case included the judge and nine lawyers being played the rappers Grammy winning song followed by the instrumental version from the party ad.
The case concluded in the summer of 2017 and the judgement was delivered later in the year.
The court ruled firstly, that “Lose Yourself” was an original piece of music and therefore was subject to copyright laws, having aptly won Best Original Song at the Academy Awards in 2003.
The court then had to decide if there were sufficient similarities between the works and if so, whether the National Party made unlawful use of the work.
It was determined with the help of numerous experts, that the “Eminem Esque” track was a substantial copy of “Lose Yourself”.
The judge surmised “a copy is a copy if it sounds like a copy” and noted that any distinguishing features between the two tracks were so minimal that copying was apparent. As the track was also named “Eminem Esque” there was an obvious and intentional connection between the two works.
It was then proven that the copyright had been infringed as Eminem’s track had been unlawfully reproduced to the public via the party’s ad.
As such, Eight Mile Style was entitled to NZ$600,000 plus interest from when the breach occurred in 2014. This was calculated based upon the negotiation of a hypothetical contract between the parties, the figure being the price of a reasonable licence fee.
The decision swings the pendulum of copyright protection in favour of rights holders, as use of a track, or its components, have been deemed to warrant copyright infringement.
A key part of the case focused on how in the music industry, the borrowing of elements from a music genre or other artists rarely attract copyright proceedings, which usually settle prior to any hearing. Now that a precedent has been set, this may well open the floodgates and propel copyright proceedings for copycat or inspired works around the world.