Miley Cyrus on receiving end of copyright infringement lawsuit

April 2018

Music publishing


Miley Cyrus is facing a lawsuit from the Jamaican dancehall star Flourgon (Michael May)  which has been described in the popular press as a $300 million claim for copyright infringement which focuses on the lyrics single Cyrus’s 2013 hit single ‘We Can’t Stop’.

In Flourgon’s ‘We Run Things’ the lyric reads ‘We run things, things no run we’. The similarity between the lyrics  is the basis of the claim which alleges that this line was utilised when Cyrus sings ‘We run things, things don’t run we’ in her We Can’t Stop.

But Cyrus is not the only one in the firing line; the lawsuit also names Sony Records label RCA, the songs co-writers Rock City (Timothy Thomas and Theron Thomas), Mike Will Made It, and manager Larry Rudolph.


The lawsuit references the popularity of Flourgon’s 1998  track:  the song became a ‘cultural hit gathering significant sales and popularity’. ‘We Run Things‘ was well known within reggae and dancehall circles, both upon its release and to this day in various countries around the world. As such, it has influenced Caribbean culture significantly, says the lawsuit. Cyrus’s single was an international hit and reached number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart. Cyrus’ song is five times platinum in the US alone, its video broke numerous viewing records on Vevo and YouTube, and Cyrus performs her song in almost every live show she gives, to rapturous responses from audiences

The lawsuit notes that in an interview about their work on the Miley Cyrus track, Rock City spoke about how they had drawn upon Caribbean dancehall culture for the song, referencing the line “we run things, things no run we” as a simple part of that culture, rather than acknowledging that it came from a specific source.  Cyrus borrowed heavily from Caribbean culture for her new image, says the lawsuit, with the lifted line a key part of that. In fact, it notes, the line is developed elsewhere in the song, showing its significance to the composition and her new image as a whole

The lawsuit goes on to claim that Cyrus copied Flourgon’s original, unique and creative lyrical phrase within ‘We Can’t Stop’. Furthermore, the lawsuit notes that the song is the one in which Cyrus was re-launched, from Hannah Montana to an ‘edgy’ pop star.

However, Cyrus’ ‘We Cant Stop ‘already features a number of other influences. In fact, Doug E Fresh and Slick Rick are co-writers of the song. Cyrus sampled the song La Di Da Di in her song and obtained the relevant consents and licence before the songs release.

In the wake of the Blurred Lines decision, and the more recent Taylor Swift decision over the alleged copying in the lyrics of ‘Shake It Off’, this could be one to watch. Interestingly it was Blurred Lines that kept Cyrus’ now disputed song from reaching number 1 in the US Billboard Hot 100!

But it is the copyright lawsuit filed against Taylor Swift claiming the lyrics to her 2014 track ‘Shake It Off’ infringed on a 2001 hit by American girl group 3lw that is closer on the facts here: That case was dismissed by the federal court of California. The plaintiffs, songwriters Sean Hall and Nathan Butler who wrote the 3lw track ‘Playas Gon’ Play’ claimed there were similarities between the lyrics and that they infringed their copyright. The lyrics to the 3lw track include: “Playas, they gonna play/ And haters, they gonna hate.” The chorus to Swifts’ chorus is: “Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play/ And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.


US District Judge Michael Fitzgerald had little sympathy for the claim saying “The lynchpin of this entire case is thus whether or not the lyrics ‘Playas, they gonna play / And haters, they gonna hate’ are eligible for protection under the Copyright Act,”  adding “[B]y 2001, American popular culture was heavily steeped in the concepts of players, haters, and player haters. … The concept of actors acting in accordance with their essential nature is not at all creative; it is banal” and  “The allegedly infringed lyrics are short phrases that lack the modicum of originality and creativity required for copyright protection”.


But here and as with the Blurred Lines case, Flourgon’s lawyers are  requesting a jury hearing.

This update from Sam O’Toole

No Comments

Comments are closed.