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Rapper Jonathan Emile wins ‘moral rights’ case over Kendrick Lamar takedown

By | Published on Friday 25 November 2016

Jonathan Emile

Canadian rapper Jonathan Emile recently won an interesting case against US management company Top Dawg Entertainment in a Canadian small claims court, it has emerged. The court ruled that a false takedown notice issued against a track he recorded with Kendrick Lamar infringed his moral rights.

Lamar appeared on Emile’s 2015 track ‘Heaven Help Dem’, written in tribute to Mike Brown, Trayvon Martin and others who have been killed by police in the US. The collaboration was apparently set up through Top Dawg, but the relationship went cold after the track was completed.

“We paid Kendrick Lamar for a feature, and once we paid them, they basically stopped communicating with us altogether”, Emile tells Billboard. “It was understood that we’d take care of the paperwork with the lawyers, so we paid them and they basically disappeared… we couldn’t get in contact, so I just continued producing my album and with the verbal agreement we had, and we put out the song in 2015”.

Emile eventually managed to get the track back up on YouTube, SoundCloud and other services despite Top Dawg’s takedown notices, after proving the management firm did not have a valid copyright claim. However, by this time, he says, “the damage had already been done and the momentum to promote the song had already been [lost]”.

He continues: “On the advice of my lawyers, we took them to small claims – to make a statement more than anything – and to show that what was done was not right and to clear my name, in terms of a lot of folks really did think that the verse was stolen and it’s not legitimate. We did what we had to do to get the judgment”.

Although the judgement was made a month ago, it has since gained attention among some legal types, due to the unusual nature of the case. While Emile won a small amount of money in damages from Top Dawg and co-defendants Universal/Interscope, the point of the case was to assert that the management company had been in the wrong to attempt to takedown the track in question.

Whereas in the US the Digital Millennium Copyright Act provides specific protection against the misuse of the safe harbour takedown process that operates online, it will be interesting to see if any others at the receiving end of an erroneous takedown in Canada now follow a similar moral rights route to Emile.

Read the full judgement here, and listen to ‘Heaven Help Dem’ here: