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Judge Asserts Different “Overall Feel” in Roddy Rich Copyright Suit Win

by | Mar 19, 2024 | Intellectual Property, Trademark

Music copyright lawsuits are interesting beasts. When an artist obtains a copyright for a particular piece of music, that copyright is intended to protect the specific composition present in the song. However, this can also apply to individual aspects of the musical structure.

While it ended up being settled privately, think back to the famous case involving Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby” using part of David Bowie and Queen’s “Under Pressure.” In that case, a single famous riff from “Under Pressure” was used, but it was enough to force Vanilla Ice to pay the copyright holders and give songwriting credits to Queen and Bowie.

Which brings us to the allegations that  Roddy Rich used parts of Greg Perry’s ‘70s soul song “Come On Down” in his 2019 hit “The Box,” and why a judge ultimately ruled that the two songs were dissimilar enough to avoid violating the copyright. 

“An Unauthorized Duplication and Infringement of Certain Elements”

The music copyright infringement claim, filed in December of 2022 in the Southern District Court of New York, argued that not only would casual music fans be able to notice “strikingly similar” parts of the two songs – but that they had conducted a comparative analysis by a musicology expert that “demonstrates clearly and convincingly that ‘The Box’ is an unauthorized duplication and infringement of certain elements of ‘Come On Down.’”

Now, obviously, any entity putting forth a suit against another is going to make their argument sound as convincing as possible. However, Perry’s lawyers did seem to have a strong argument here. In fact, they specifically cite similarities in the “beat, lyrics, hook, rhythmic structure, metrical placement, and narrative context” between the two songs.

The judge in the case, however, was having none of that.

Different Tempo, Different Genre, Different Intent

Among Judge Analisa Torres’ many reasons for ruling in favor of Mr. Rich is that both songs have a different and distinct feel. To back up what may seem like a subjective claim, she cites:

  • the much faster tempo of the older song
  • the fact that it is a melodic soul piece, whereas the newer song is “hip-hop…delivered in a monotone rap”
  • that acoustic instruments were used in the older song, while the new one was made mostly with a synthesizer
  • the varying narratives of the songs – one is about love and heartbreak, while the other focuses on the singer’s impressive rapping skills, sleeping with lots of women, and becoming rich

Ultimately, her ruling is that, after listening: “No reasonable jury could find that the works are substantially similar.”

How Will This Ruling Impact Future Music Copyright Lawsuits?

Does Judge Torres’ decision mark a change in music copyright infringement claims? Is this starting a trend of looking at the individual elements of songs that might be taken from others’ work to judging the similarity of the piece as a whole? If so, that could be a monumental shift.

Certainly, some of her language would point in that direction. After all – going back to that earlier famous case – how many people listening to both “Ice Ice Baby” and “Under Pressure” could honestly say that the songs as a whole felt “substantially similar”?

Probably not very many. Which is why that was never the argument. The complaint was that a specific, unique, highly-identifiable music riff had been used without permission.

Is Torres really moving the needle in that direction, though? Closer inspection of her entire argument makes this less likely, with ample attention paid to specific musical elements.

Still, it is worth paying attention to see how judges in future music copyright cases rule.


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