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Songwriters hit back at Chris Brown and Drake’s “haughty claims” in song-theft dispute

By | Published on Thursday 10 February 2022


The songwriters who have accused Chris Brown and Drake of ripping off one of their tracks on the 2019 hit ‘No Guidance’ have hit back in a new legal filing. An attempt by Brown and Drake to get the lawsuit that was filed in relation to the alleged song-theft dismissed was high on arrogance and low on legal arguments, said songwriters reckon.

Singer Braindon Cooper and producer Timothy Valentine sued Brown and Drake last year, claiming that ‘No Guidance’ rips off their 2016 track ‘I Love Your Dress’. In their lawsuit, the plaintiffs said that “in addition to containing similar beat patterns, the melody and lyrics used in the chorus/hook of ‘No Guidance’ – ‘you got it, girl; you got it’ – are so strikingly similar to those used in the chorus of ‘I Love Your Dress’ that they cannot be purely coincidental”.

As for how Brown and Drake had heard ‘I Love Your Dress’, Cooper and Valentine pointed out that they had sent a link to the album on which their track appears to an A&R representative associated with Drake’s then label Cash Money Records, who had approached Cooper to see if he had any new music he could share.

In a legal filing last month calling for the lawsuit to be dismissed, Brown and Drake’s legal rep argued that the litigation was “premised upon the alleged similarity between the wholly generic lyrical phrase ‘you got it’ and the alleged similar (and unoriginal) theme of a hard-working, attractive woman. No one, including plaintiffs, can own or monopolise the non-copyrightable phrase ‘you got it’, and it should come as no surprise that this phrase appears in countless other works. Also, lyrical themes are simply unprotectable as a matter of law”.

As for the theory as to how Brown and Drake got to hear ‘I Love Your Dress’, last month’s legal filing stated: “A charitable read of the complaint is that plaintiffs gave their song to someone in the music business who might have known someone who knows one of the defendants involved in the creation of defendants’ works, but that plaintiffs have no idea who that person might be, whether it actually happened, or when it happened”.

But, a new legal filing from Cooper and Valentine this week counters, that theory for how the defendants could have accessed the original track is reasonable, and that is all that is necessary at this stage in the legal battle. And the slightly snooty implication that superstars operating at the level of Brown and Drake can’t possibly have heard a song as obscure as ‘I Love Your Dress’ is no grounds for dismissing the song-theft action.

“To properly plead ‘access’, a plaintiff need not allege that the defendants actually viewed or heard the relevant work, but merely that they had a ‘reasonable opportunity’ to do so”, the new legal filing states. “Here, despite the haughty claim that famous artists like Drake and Brown could not conceivably have viewed or heard plaintiffs’ so-called ‘obscure’ work, the complaint alleges facts supporting the inescapable conclusion that defendants had, at very least, a reasonable opportunity to do so”.

Repeating those facts, the legal filing goes on: “To be sure, as alleged, an A&R representative associated with the famed Cash Money Records label – whom the defendants explain would have been ‘responsible for helping the company find, sign and guide new talent’ – identified Cooper as an artist of interest, actively solicited his work, and even proposed a meeting in Drake’s hometown. This alone negates the defendants’ baseless suggestion that plaintiffs’ work was so ‘obscure’ that it should be considered virtually inaccessible”.

As for the claim that the only real similarities between the two songs are a very short common phrase and a lyrical theme, neither of which can be protected by copyright, Cooper and Valentine insist that’s not the case, and that the defendants have deliberately ignored the conclusions of some good old expert musicologists.

“Plaintiffs have sufficiently pleaded facts that plausibly establish the requisite ‘substantial similarity’ between plaintiffs’ work and defendants’ work. As alleged in the complaint, a proper comparative analysis of the ‘beat, lyrics, hook, rhythmic structure, metrical placement, and narrative context’ demonstrates that defendants’ work was copied or principally derived from plaintiffs’ work”.

They go on: “Defendants also blatantly ignore plaintiffs’ allegation that ‘highly regarded musicology experts’ have already engaged in such a comparative analysis and concluded that the two works share a ‘high degree of combined similar features’, which are unlikely to be found in combination in prior musical works (even if, separately, certain similar features might be found)”.

So that’s all fun. Needless to say, the conclusion of the new legal filing is that the arguments put forward by Drake and Brown are not good enough to justify dismissing this case at this time.

This lawsuit is being pursued in the Florida courts. The trend with song-theft cases on the other side of the US – in courts sitting under the Ninth Circuit appeals court, principally the Californian ones – has been for judges to be cautious of over-extending copyright protection to short lyrical or musical segments that multiple songs share.

Although, at the same time, the ‘Shake It Off’ lyric theft dispute has also arguably set a precedent in that circuit that judges need to be careful of unilaterally dismissing song-theft cases on the grounds shared segments are too short and generic to enjoy copyright protection, with such decisions possibly better made by juries.

It will be interesting to see how a court in Florida rules on these matters.