Artist News Legal

Appeals court upholds fair use ruling in “party and bullshit” copyright case

By | Published on Monday 9 September 2019

Notorious BIG

An appeals court in the US last week upheld an earlier ruling which deemed that the borrowing of the line “party and bullshit” by both Notorious BIG and Rita Ora from a poem by spoken-word artist Abiodun Oyewole was “fair use”.

The notable line, taken from Oyewole’s poem ‘When The Revolution Comes’, appeared in the Notorious BIG’s 1993 track actually called ‘Party And Bullshit’. But Oyewole didn’t go legal until 2016, after Ora had in turn sampled the Biggie Smalls track on her debut single in 2012, that being ‘How We Do (Party)’.

In his legal filing, the spoken word artist said that he had decided not to take legal action in the 1990s because he did not want to cause “hassle” for the family of the Notorious BIG after the rapper was murdered in 1997. However, he chose to pursue litigation in 2016 after Ora’s record had brought the sample back into the spotlight.

In March last year a New York court rejected the case after concluding that the inclusion of the snippet of Oyewole’s poem in both the Biggie and Ora tracks was protected by the US copyright principle of fair use.

The newer works, the court said, had transformed the line into something entirely new. In the original poem “party and bullshit” had a negative connotation, whereas in the subsequent tracks it was used positively. All of which meant that fair use applied.

Oyewole appealed that judgement hoping that a higher court would overturn the fair use conclusion and instead rule that both Biggie and Ora had infringed his copyright. But last week the Second Circuit appeals court declined to do any of that, stating that the lower court had reached a “thorough and well-reasoned opinion”.

According to Law360, the Second Circuit added: “We have considered Oyewole’s remaining arguments on fair use and conclude, also for the reasons ably stated by the district court, that they are without merit”.

For more on the US copyright principle of fair use, check out this week’s Setlist, a special edition discussing the long-running dancing baby case.