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Peermusic and the Malcolm McLaren estate sue Sony Music Publishing over Lizzo interpolation

By | Published on Tuesday 25 April 2023


Peermusic and the UK company that controls music created by the late Malcolm McLaren have sued Sony Music Publishing in a dispute over an interpolation in Lizzo track ‘About Damn Time’.

In its chorus, Lizzo’s 2022 hit interpolates an element of ‘Hey! DJ’, a 1984 release by The World’s Famous Supreme Team, which was co-written by McLaren. The copyright in that song was split between McLaren, producer Stephen Hague, and the two members of The World’s Famous Supreme Team, Larry Price and Ronald Larkins.

According to a new lawsuit filed with the New York courts, reps for Lizzo approached Peermusic – which administrates McLaren’s catalogue – to clear his share of the copyright in relation to the interpolation. It was ultimately decided that a third of the copyright in ‘About Damn Time’ would be allocated to the writers of ‘Hey! DJ’, with McLaren getting 25% of that. So that’s 8.335%.

So far so good. Except, Lizzo’s reps then subsequently told Peermusic that Sony Music Publishing was in fact claiming all of the monies due to the ‘Hey! DJ’ interpolation based on the argument that what was actually being interpolated was an extended instrumental version of the earlier work.

And, it turns out, when the extended instrumental version was registered with the US Copyright Office, McLaren was not included as a co-writer. Which was sneaky.

However, the Peermusic lawsuit states: “Even if the registration was validly obtained (which is questionable, as the underlying work on which it was based should have been disclaimed in the registration process), the instrumental registration would be extremely limited because, as a matter of copyright law, it excludes all music and lyrics present in the original vocal version of ‘Hey! DJ'”.

“That is”, it adds, “it would encompass only newly added authorship by Hague, Price and Larkins, if any. The instrumental registration would not (and does not) include the musical excerpt sampled by Lizzo, because the excerpt sampled by Lizzo appears in the earlier created vocal version of the work”.

But, it seems that Sony so far has been unwilling to budge on any of this, insisting that it can license the interpolation without the involvement of Peermusic or McLaren’s estate and grab any monies due from Lizzo’s hit.

In fact, when Peermusic’s lawyer contacted Sony’s lawyer, “Sony doubled down on its specious assertion that the sample was taken from the instrumental version, ignoring the fact that the same instrumental music – including the melodic phrase sampled by Lizzo – is contained in the vocal version co-authored by McLaren from which the instrumental version was derived”.

And not only that, “in yet another manoeuvre to divert Peer/[McLaren estate] licensing fees to itself, on information and belief, Sony in the last few months registered the b-side instrumental version of ‘Hey! DJ’ with the UK performing rights society PRS For Music, some four decades after it was released”.

To that end, Peermusic is asking the New York courts to confirm that McLaren is co-owner of the copyright in all versions of ‘Hey! DJ’ and that therefore his estate needs to be cut into the deal around the ‘About Damn Time’ interpolation. Oh, and they’d like some lovely damages too. We will see how Sony responds.