Rappers settle with “Different Strokes” artist

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

Acclaimed music artists Jay-Z and Kanye West have settled their federal lawsuit brought by Syl Johnson, a songwriter who alleged that the two men illegally sampled his song “Different Strokes” on a deluxe version of the album Watch the Throne. Legal documents that were filed this week showed that the case had been dismissed after Johnson and the two rappers reached a settlement. Details about the settlement remained undisclosed.

Johnson, who has also pursued similar action against rappers before, is including a $29 million case against music group Cypress Hill. That suit was dismissed in 2008 because of a copyright law loophole; sound recordings created earlier than Feb. 15, 1972 are not considered protected by the Copyright Protection Act. Johnson then decided to sue his legal team after an appeal certified the ruling’s validity. In addition to those suits, Johnson has filed against the Wu-Tang Clan, Cypress Hill, Kid Rock and Michael Jackson.

Copyright law protects works of art in the modern world, including musical compositions and performances. Although it was originally created to protect musicians from the evils of plagiarism, copyright law now sometimes weaves a complicated web for musical artists. Even a short reproduction of a few phrases can lead to legal violations.

Musicians and producers debate about whether the legal environment is unduly sculpted by corporate entities. Excessive controls can be seen as either protective or limiting. Some argue that sampling music should be freely allowed to guarantee the continued integrity of the artistic process.

Experts say that many legal actions are only available to those with significant resources, citing landmark cases such as those involving Metallica and their continued and sometimes excessive litigious actions. These debates will continue to rage throughout the artistic community as information technology allows for easier theft of intellectual property.

Source: Rolling Stone, “Kanye West and Jay-Z Settle Syl Johnson Lawsuit,” March 12, 2012