Financially draining, time-consuming, and often, silly lawsuits are nothing new in the numbingly complex music industry. It runs especially rampant in the world of rap. Just type in a rap artist or producer’s name along with the term ‘copyright infringement’ to see how common it is.
So it comes as no surprise that yet another artist becomes entangled in the intricate webs of lawsuit-dom. In a February 22nd blurb in Uncut Magazine (online), rap artist Lil Wayne and his label, Cash Money records, are being sued for copyright infringement over the tune “Mrs. Officer”, from his 2008 album Tha Carter III. According to the $2.5 million dollar lawsuit, producer of the song Darius ‘Deezle’ Harrison and music publisher The Royalty Network claim they own the rights to the song, and rights to any profits from ring tones, music videos or streaming media.
Regardless of your level of expertise in the industry, it is not hard to see that there are a lot of people involved in the recording process. Having a look at the liner notes inside of an album’s booklet shows just a fraction of the people involved in the making of a record. Being that there are so many factors, it is not surprising that someone at some point would have a problem. For this particular case, let’s quickly examine the two biggest trouble areas in this case, songwriting and producing.
The task of songwriting is very self-explanatory: they are hired to write and usually arrange a song, tailoring it specifically to fit the hiring artists’ wishes. In the case of “Mrs. Officer”, reviewing the credits on the album would show that the writing credits are given to not two but three people: Dwayne Carter, Darius Harrison, and Robert Wilson (Lil Wayne, Deezle, and guest artist Bobby Valentino, respectively). From a publishing standpoint, this would suggest that any money a publishing house collects off of any media use would then be awarded to and divided between the credited writers.
A producer is a bit more involved; they are essentially responsible for the overall recording process. Their multiple tasks include but are not limited to: finding a studio, determining recording dates, hiring the necessary mixers/engineers/additional musicians, etc. And if one hires a more hands on producer like a Timbaland, Dr. Dre, or Kanye West, the responsibilities can grow to include: performance, sampling, programming beats, weeding out demos, song arrangements, track list selection, and even personally mixing and engineering the record. In this area, ‘Deezle’ Harrison is credited as the sole producer of the song.
But does performing either of these difficult tasks mean that ‘Deezle’ has the right to claim ownership over a song that isn’t completely his? Not necessarily.
In the process of recording an album, it is fairly normal for both producers and songwriters to be hired on a work for hire basis; they are hired independently for that specific task and are paid some type of set fee upfront. More importantly, this means that unless it is specified otherwise in the contract for the job, being for-hire involves the limiting or giving up of rights to the song and waiving collection of any future publishing money, so long as they are paid for the task and (usually) credited. Basically, once they complete the task that they have been paid to do, they are absolved from any further involvement with the album, unless stated otherwise.
This doesn’t improve things on the Royalty Network front, as their ability to collect money from profits depends on whether or not the work on the song was a work for hire. If not, then they are not entitled to anything; if it was a collaboration with any type of specific publishing details being worked out, then it’s time to pony up.
But this still doesn’t address who lays claim to the actual ownership of the song, which seems to be the big deciding factor here. It would be great to get more in-depth with the rights and laws that are involved within this type of case, but there are only so many hours in a day; only so much a person with a life can devote. So unfortunately, not much else can be said without conjuring up a migraine of technicalities.
But if you were to ask me, I’d say that it’s just another case of a producer greatly overestimating his importance, mixed with a publishing company’s attempts to milk the current cash-cow that is Lil Wayne on the back of one it its clients.
It’s nice to know that in an attempt to make a living off of creating, there are always money-minded sharks willing to ruin it for everyone. Shame, shame, shame.