A complaint has been filed in the US District Court of New York by Lastrada Entertainment Company Ltd, the publishers of “More Bounce to the Ounce” written by Roger Troutman and ZAPP. The suit is against Mark Ronson, Philip Martin Lawrence, Jeffrey Bhasker, Sony/ATV, Warner/Chappell, Vevo, Spotify, Apple and others. Lastrada is seeking damages of up to $150,000 per infringement, a permanent injunction against profiting from the alleged infringement, and a jury trial to decide the matter.
The latest lawsuit draws parallels with “Blurred Lines” between the estate of Marvin Gaye and Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams, where the claimants asserted that the respondents unintentionally copied Marvin Gaye’s 1977 hit “Got to Give It Up”. The suit went to a jury trial who decided in favour of the estate and the claimants were awarded $7.4 million in damages and a share of the profits.
The background is that “Uptown Funk” is the lead single from the album of the same name by uber-producer Mark Ronson recorded with Bruno Mars on vocals and released by RCA Records on 10th November 2014. It was a worldwide hit spending 14 consecutive weeks at No.1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the US and topping the charts in the UK and several other countries. It has won two Grammy awards, its video is the fifth most viewed on YouTube just short of 2.7 billion views and the song is the biggest hit of the 2010s (Billboard).
However, even before its release, the songwriters acceded to copyright infringement claims by others. The initial songwriting credits went to Mark Ronson, Bruno Mars, Philip Martin Lawrence and Jeffrey Bhasker. Before release, two more credits were added recognising Nicholas Williams (aka Trinidad James) and producer Devon Gallaspy, the authors of “All Gold Everything” for sampling interpolation used on “Uptown Funk”.
Five months after its release in April 2015, a settlement was reached with Minder Music, the Gap Band’s music publishing company after an infringement claim was made in February 2015 via YouTube’s content management system which triggered a freeze on payments until the dispute was resolved. The claim was based on the Gap Band’s 1979 hit “Oops Upside Your Head”. The settlement added four of the Gap Band’s members and producer to the songwriting credits making a total of eleven songwriters credited.
In August 2015, the Independent reported that another artist claimed plagiarism. Serbian band Snezana Miskovic – aka Viktorija – accused them of stealing “80 per cent” of her track “Ulice Mracne Nisu Za Devojke”, translated as “English Dark Streets Are Not For Girls”. Despite the similarities, it is unclear whether an infringement claim has been made. “The lawyers are working on a percentage”, Vitorija told the Daily Star.
In February 2016, TMZ reported that former female rap group Sequence claimed that Bruno Mars used their 1979 hit “Funk You Up” as the inspiration for “Uptown Funk”. The Sequence did not bring a lawsuit.
In October 2016, Billboard reported that 80s funk band Collage had filed a lawsuit claiming that it’s 1983 song “Young Girls” was almost identical and indistinguishable from “Uptown Funk”. Collage are seeking damages and profits. It is unclear whether this has now been settled.
It is not uncommon for writers of hit songs to be approached by other artists and particularly publishers and estates of deceased artists claiming infringement in the hope that the songwriter will choose to make an offer to settle. Most infringement lawsuits are settled before going to trial which can prove expensive compared to a settlement. Where a jury is left to decide on the infringement claims, huge awards have been made as in the case of “My Sweet Lord” between George Harrison and The Chiffons, (Bright Tunes Music Corp v Harrisongs Music Ltd (1976)), setting the precedent for infringement lawsuits ever since.
© George Chin LLB (Hons)