At the heart, it seems to be a simple copyright case, but what is remarkable here is that highly respected and well-known musicians appear to have acted with no knowledge of copyright law whatsoever in recording (almost exactly) the same song. We'll examine the facts and legal issues involved in the case.
Jamie Foxx steals a song
A few days after releasing his first new song in four years, Jamie Foxx has been sued for copyright infringement alongside DJ Mustard and 2 Chainz. It seems that the song at issue, "Party Ain't a Party," was already made by the time Foxx released it.
According to the complaint, the instrumentals for the song were first made by DJ Mustard and sent to J Rand's record company, Poe Boy Music Group. J Rand then recorded the song over these instrumentals.
The plaintiff in this case, Nontra Records, bought out J Rand's contract along with the rights to the track. Nontra also paid to mix, master and promote the song, but noticed at the time that DJ Mustard could not be reached for its promotional campaign.
Shortly thereafter, Jamie Foxx released his song, crediting the instrumentals to DJ Mustard. As the complaint notes, not only are the instrumentals for the two songs extremely similar, but the words are as well. In fact, the only difference that can be clearly discerned, other than the vocal styles of the artists, is the appearance of 2 Chainz as a guest artist - all other lyrics are virtually identical.
While this appears to be an open and shut case, I suspect that it may get deeper than plaintiffs are anticipating.
In the typical case, we would look to "(1) ownership of a valid copyright, and (2) copying of constituent elements of the work that are original." We can say without a doubt that the songs are copies of one another, but are left to determine the ownership of a valid copyright.
If J Rand made up the lyrics to the song himself, he would absolutely own a valid copyright. However, considering that a successful musician would have to be extremely foolish to outright steal a song in such way, I think that we can rule out this possibility. Also eliminating the possibility that each party arrived at the same lyrics independently, it seems plausible that the lyrics were included with the instrumentals to the song.
If this is the case, DJ Mustard could potentially be held liable for selling his intellectual property twice. This is pure speculation at this point, but given the similarities between the lyrics - it seems plausible. Either way, I suspect this case will become more complicated than it currently seems as more details surface.
As an entertainment attorney in New York City I've written extensively analyzing copyright lawsuits within the entertainment world, including the Hip-Hop genre. Check out some of my previous posts: