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LMFAO v Rick Ross lyric dispute back in court

By | Published on Monday 30 April 2018


A four-year old lawsuit filed by Rick Ross against LMFAO as part of a dispute over a three word lyric was back in court last week putting the spotlight on yet another tedious copyright technicality. Four years on, we’re yet to get to the key question in this case: ie whether or not borrowing two thirds of a three word lyric can possibly constitute copyright infringement.

Ross sued LMFAO over their 2010 hit ‘Party Rock Anthem’ and its line “everyday I’m shuffling”, which he said ripped off the lyric “everyday I’m hustlin” from his 2006 track ‘Hustlin’. Should it ever get properly to court, the judge will have to decide whether LMFAO using the words “everyday I’m” in that context is infringement.

The case was initially kicked out of court on a technicality relating to the registration of ‘Hustlin’ with the US Copyright Office. Unlike most other countries, copyrights are actually registered in the US, and it turned out there were problems with the registration of Ross’s work. The problem not being a lack of registration, but the fact the song had been registered three times by different people.

Given that some of those registrations were by big music publishers, the judge argued, someone involved in the song should have spotted that problems long ago and fixed them. Or, at the very least, Ross’s legal team should have sorted out the registration issues before going legal over the LMFAO lyric. To that end the lyric theft lawsuit was dismissed.

Ross’s team appealed that ruling and last year the appeals court reinstated the case. That means the whole matter must now go back to the district court for the “can two words be infringement?” debate. Meanwhile, Team Ross have asked the court to force LMFAO to pay their legal costs in relation to the appeal.

Which brings us to the new copyright technicality. LMFAO last week stated in court that they can’t be forced to pay Ross’s legal fees, because the wider copyright dispute is as yet unresolved. Ross may have prevailed in the appeal hearing regarding the copyright registrations, but he is not yet the ‘prevailing party’.

According to Law 360, LMFAO said in court that while copyright law “grants a court the discretion to ‘award a reasonable attorney’s fee to the prevailing party'”, it does not “grant this court the discretion to award reasonable attorney’s fees to a party that has prevailed on an intermediate appeal of a copyright infringement case that remands the case to the district court for further proceedings on the merits”.

It remains to be seen what the court reckons regarding the fees. Let alone whether “everyday I’m shuffling” really can be said to be an infringement of “everyday I’m hustlin”.