Early rapper wins Black Eyed Peas track dispute

By | Published on Monday 27 June 2011

Black Eyed Peas

A US DJ and one time rapper Orrin Lynn Tolliver Jr has won $1.2 million in a legal dispute over the Black Eyed Peas’ track ‘My Humps’, which sampled his 1983 song ‘I Need A Freak’. Though it’s not the Peas who will be paying Tolliver the cash, rather the dispute was with a former collaborator of the rapper.

Tolliver recorded ‘I Need A Freak’ under the moniker Sexual Harassment with one James McCants at the latter’s studios in the early eighties. McCants registered the track with US collecting society BMI, crediting Tolliver as the songwriter. According to an agreement made at the time, Tolliver would get 75% of royalties generated by the track.

I’m not sure, however, how well that agreement dealt with the issue of who actually owned the copyrights in the track, or who would have the right of veto of its future use. Either way, the two men first fell out over the song in 2000 when it appeared on a compilation album without Tolliver’s permission. At the time McCants denied having licensed the track to the label behind the compo.

Needless to say, that dispute only got bigger when ‘I Need A Freak’ showed up as a sample in the twice platinum selling Black Eyed Peas single, again without Tolliver’s permission. When faced with legal action from his former collaborator, McCants offered a number of different excuses: that he hadn’t licensed ‘I Need A Freak’ to the Black Eyed Peas’ label, that the song wasn’t actually in the track, that he had co-authored the original, and that he owned it via assignment.

McCants’ shifting defence clearly didn’t go down well with the judge, who ruled in Tolliver’s favour in a summary judgement. The case then went to a jury to determine damages, with McCants ordered to pay $1.2 million – which breaks down as about three quarters unpaid royalties and one quarter damages – to his former creative partner.