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New York court dismisses Migos lyric theft case

By | Published on Wednesday 13 November 2019


Another lyric theft case in the US has been dismissed after a judge decided that the allegedly stolen line wasn’t substantial enough to be protected by copyright. Even though the Ninth Circuit appeals court recently said judges shouldn’t make such calls on their own.

In this case rap outfit Migos were accused of lifting the key line in their hit ‘Walk It Talk It’ from an earlier work. An artist called Leander Pickett said the lyric “walk it like I talk it” came from a song he released back in 2007. His record actually used the full lyric as its title.

However, a judge in the New York courts has ruled that walking it and talking it – and then talking about walking it in lyrical form – is not original enough for the resulting lyric to be protected by copyright.

A judge on the other side of the US in California previously made a similar ruling in a lawsuit that accused Taylor Swift of ripping off the players and haters line in ‘Shake It Off’. But last month the Ninth Circuit appeals court ruled that it wasn’t for judges to make such a call on the artistic substance of a lyric and that the case should have gone before a jury.

While the federal courts in California and New York sit under different appeal courts (the so called Ninth and Second circuit respectively), the ruling in the Taylor Swift case did cite a US Supreme Court precedent.

But New York judge Analisa Nadine Torres stated in a judgement this week: “Because songwriters must be free to borrow sayings and expressions from popular culture, the Second Circuit and courts in this district have found that short and commonplace phrases are not protectable, even when used as the title or repeated lyrics of a song, as is the case here”.

Noting various other songs that also reference walking it and talking it, the ruling went on: “The only similarity between the two works at issue, the lyrics ‘walk it like I talk it’, is not original to the author and is, therefore, not protected by the copyright laws”.

Legal reps for Pickett say they are now reviewing their options. A ‘Shake It Off’ style appeal could follow.