Solve for the music legal equilibrium

Pop superstar Miley Cyrus now being sued for copyright infringement — with damages potentially hitting $300 million.  That is, for one lyric in her hit single, “We Can’t Stop”.  The song is from her fourth studio album, Bangerz, released in 2013.

The lawsuit is coming from Michael May, better known as Flourgon, a Jamaican dancehall artist.  Flourgon had several Jamaican hit singles in the late 1980s and 1990s, and remains an active performer today.

May alleges that Cyrus ripped off his catch-phase, ‘We Run Things,’ which is actually the name of a song written by May.  In “We Can’t Stop,” Cyrus repeats the lyric ‘we run things’ in the chorus.

“We run things/Things don’t run we” are the lyrics of Miley’s single.

In May’s track, the lyrics are: “We run things/Things no run we.”

Here is the full article, via Ted Gioia.


I had never heard that Miley Cyrus song before, but a quick listen suggests that everything about it is cribbed or copied ("hands in the air like we don't care," she actually sings that), and the melody itself sounds like hundreds of other melodies, so maybe the whole production is a grand meta-gesture about the contrast between sampling/referencing and plagiarizing/stealing circa 2018.
I also kind of like it when I song I've never heard of turns out to have not merely a few million views on Youtube but, in this case, 800 million. There are now dozens of songs there that have more that a billion views, and I recognize maybe 10% of them.

Yes welcome to the world YouTuber.

I would have guess it to be the line that says, “And everyone in line in the bathroom
Trying to get a line in the bathroom”

I remember when I heard that on the radio and was like, did she really say that? She rebranded hard.

"and the melody itself sounds like hundreds of other melodies"

Then she has not plagiarized anyone in special. She is clearly innocent.

"May alleges that Cyrus ripped off his catch-phase, ‘We Run Things’"

Actually, the first registered used of that expression happened in the mid-1940's in the First Report of the Judicial Council of the State of New Hampshire, which is so zealous about its intellectual property that Google (a.k.a. Youtube) dares not reproduce it at lenght:"We+run+things"&dq="We+run+things"&hl=pt-BR&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwil5_zzmvbZAhXKCpAKHcFoD6U4HhDoAQjBATAV

[ “and the melody itself sounds like hundreds of other melodies” ]

yup, millions of melodies & lyrics overlap -- hence the legal problem without solution or equilibrium.

Dumb laws attempt to copyright and shovel smoke.

There are only a few basic notes & chords used in pop music -- duplication is inevitable and commonplace.
Same with lyrics -- it's like trying to copyright everyday speech of the entire populace.

Picture yourself as a new, earnest and sincere songwriter -- how can you possibly know if the songs you "invent" are actually original .... among all the millions of songs that have been created before you ?

So, imagine the outrage when this happens -

Wait, that article is almost 15 years old.

...didn't you ever "recycle" a term paper in high school or college?

Nope. But then, I was taught about bibliographies in elementary school. Of course, that was in a time where crediting a source was sufficient for using a small portion of it.

Well, I'm convinced.

Songwriters have to write about something other than the three subjects they always write about?(In this case it's the "look at how much of a strong independent woman I am!") Id welcome that. But anyone can file a lawsuit, and clickbait articles report as if they are representative of cases that win. What chance of success does this one have?

What you want, a musical about the common cat or the king of Siam?

I would think that construction/template (flipping subject and object) has a long history, and lots of people have used it. If nothing else, see, e.g., the great comedic genius (ahem) Yakov Smirnoff and the wikipedia entry on Russian Reversal. I bet if they dig enough, they will find even that exact reversal in various forms. Of course, that doesn't necessarily answer the question. But they'll probably argue that he had access to the earlier forms (so his is not original - he copied), and also she didn't have access to his (how broadly was it distributed? - so she couldn't have copied), in addition to arguments that it's not copyrightable.

In US, people throw a party. In Russia, party throws you! (with apologies to Yakov)

In Russia, you elect Putin. In America, Putin elects you. Sorry...

Outstanding, credit where it's due.

I will sent your compliments to Mr. Putin.

I will send your compliments to Mr. Putin.

Yawn. Any copyright lawyer sees dozens of these kind of lawsuits reported in the legal press ever year. What's a travesty is if it goes before an American jury, and they find for the plaintiff, since typically the defendant is devastated and American juries are not known to split hairs over obscure issues in copyright too detailed to get into. So I'm usually for the defendant.

What is ironic about this article to me is--as poster Carlos knows better than I--that reggae (is that "Jamaican dancehall", Carloslol? I assume so) got its start from radio tunes from the US being heard in Jamaica but due to distortion from the long transmission distances being misheard so words changed meaning. Exactly like in this sample.

Another bullseye for Ray. Cheap, transistor radios did open up US popular music to the island in the early '60's [as did migrant workers returning with US 45 rpm records].

As far as music styles are concerned, think Mento -> Rocksteady -> Ska -> Reggae. Dancehall came later, in the 1980's. NB I lived/worked in Kingston for a year in 1987

Why the outrage?

Michael May isn't a global corporation with billions in market cap at stake?

This situation was created by the same people who are outraged that China produces stuff that imitates excessively over priced goods and services made in China with US copyrights slapped on without paying tribute to Wall Street.

The US Constitution authorizes copyright and patent for a limited time for the benefit of the little people, a reaction to the royal charters granted to the powerful enterprises.

As the GOP has gained increasing power over the past half century, they have served their corporate masters in extending monopoly charters further and further to the politically powerful.

The problem is copyright was expanded to cover everything corporations pay to produce without them being required to register it, but the 14th Amendment and constitution requires these expansions cover individuals without power as well. The Michael May.

Instead of copyright terms being extended, the faster and faster economic change should have shortened copyright (and patent) terms.

If Trump opposed TPP because it extends US copyright expansion to Asian nations when what he wants is curtailing all copyright in the US annd globally, it would make a principled argument. Instead, Trump's objection is that the US is not able to totally control who gets copyrights globally. Trump is likely outraged that Panama is stripping him of rents by letting the property owners take his name off their property and stop paying rents for his worthless name.

I doubt Walt Disney would have cared about the .Mickey Mouse protection act. He was a creator, a risk taker, always looking to the future. Walt Disney the corporation is great because it pays so many workers. His brother struggled to pay the bills for all the workers Walt needed to be paid. Disney was the name that mattered. A Mickey Mouse without "Disney's" in front of it would have been an inferior good, unless it was much better. Walt would have been spurred to create something new and better.

Microsoft went after Lindows to stop Linux from eroding its monopoly, but Microsoft failed horribly. In fact, the existence of the IP legal regime to protect Microsoft from competition weakened Microsoft in the long run. Microsoft is a powerful business today because it knew how to organize and pay thousands of workers, and had the cash flow from paying lots of workers to serve businesses that it could afford to pay lots of workers. IBM was better prepared in the 90s to be Microsoft today, but Wall Street thought the key was slashing payrolls and paying half the number of workers, and instead generating revenue and profit from IP monopoly.

What profit does not come from luck, comes from paying workers to work.

But conservatives see paying workers as too costly, and the high costs of paying workers kills jobs, according to conservatives.

Cyrus does not need copyright to last longer than a year, if that. It's the work Cyrus does that makes Cyrus money. The hard work of shows that attract fans paying lots of money. Or that attract brand names to sponsor her media to gain a benefit from her hard work attracting audiences who want to copy Cyrus. Watch any pop star audience and you will see fans copying the artist, and I have not seen any artist stopping the show and demanding royalty payments or issuing cease and desist demands.

To be true to the original intent, the Constitutional implementation of "promote..." requires shortening copyright and patent terms from what they were in 1810.

That would eliminate these cases, which are inconsequential, while promoting much more creativity, invention, innovation by the powerful corporations who can afford to pay workers to be creative.

Is US copyrights any too long and probably costing more than it produces for society? Absolutely. But don't blame the copyright extension on Republicans: Copyright holders have quite the intersectional influence. The fact that most people that are angry about it are democrats does not mean that there are not many Democratic public officials Tahiti have voted for the extensions over the years, and absolutely nobody is going to make shorter copyrights part of their platform: Copyrights help incumbents, and incumbents are the ones that lobby.

My sweet Lord. He's so fine. Is it the lyrics? I don't think so: The "he" in the Ronnie Mack song isn't the He in the George Harrison song. In the digital age, what isn't stolen? Google and Facebook, two of the most successful companies ever, steal from their unknowing users. What's $300 million. In the case of Google and Facebook, it's in the billions.

de minimis non curat lex

Here is the equilibrium. Lawyers make more money. Surprise.

As someone in the music business one told me years ago... when there’s a hit, there’s a writ

This is what happens in an art culture that does not value originality. And by "this," I mean one derivative artist suing another for the most derivative minutae.

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