After a three-year battle, New Zealand’s high court recently ruled in rapper Eminem’s favor in his copyright infringement suit against the country’s National party. Eminem’s publisher was awarded NZ$600,000 (roughly over US$400,000) in damages.
The suit was covered in HBO’s “Last Week Tonight.” After learning the infringing material was titled “Eminem Esque,” host John Oliver joked, “If you are going to rip off someone else’s work, maybe don’t include the name of the person you’re ripping off. Call it something less obvious, like ‘This May Or May Not Be Copyright Infringement’ or ‘Please Don’t Tell Anyone About This’ or ‘Blurred Lines.’”
Obviously, even if you chose one of those amusing names, copyright infringement is wrong. But the law often has grey areas and the possibilities for dispute are many. This means you need to be prepared to protect your position, no matter which side of the dispute you’re on.
Ideally, if Eminem’s legal team in New Zealand is correct, this high-profile case will be a warning to soundalike music producers and their clients around the world to avoid infringement. Unfortunately, even if this case deters some, it will not deter all.
One thing you may want to do is pay attention as much as possible during election cycles – even local elections. You may have no interest as a musician in being politically vocal, but many cases of copyright infringement happen when politicians use songs or similar tunes at campaign rallies and in advertisements. Your state and local politicians may try to curry favor with voters by using music by local, up-and-coming musicians to show off how “cool” they are. If you are concerned about a misuse of your work, a knowledgeable attorney can explain your legal options.