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Jay Z’s Two Lines of Legal Defense

Author: Scarinci Hollenbeck, LLC|September 17, 2014

It’s no secret that when celebrities end up in court, their legal defense and the counsel they bring with them, is the best of the best.

Jay Z’s Two Lines of Legal Defense

It’s no secret that when celebrities end up in court, their legal defense and the counsel they bring with them, is the best of the best.

The current lawsuit involving Jay Z and sound engineer Chauncey Mahan is no different. The case is anything but straightforward, but the heart of it is nothing new. Mahan alleges to have worked on 45 songs with the hip-hop star, including “Things That U Do,” “Big Pimpin” and numerous unpublished outtakes from Vol 3… The Life and Times of S. Carter.

Jay-Z
By i am guilty (JAY-Z) [CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Mahan is an industry celebrity in his own right, having collaborated with stars like Whitney Houston, Notorious B.I.G., R Kelley and Missy Elliot, but unsurprisingly, the artists themselves found significantly more fame and fortune than the sound engineer. In his 84-page complaint, Mahan demands that he be considered a joint author on the songs that he worked on with Jay Z to create. He also tells a version of the birth of hip-hop itself, its transition into the recording studio and describes the genre’s African-derived musical aesthetics.

Jay Z’s defense

I won’t get into whether Mahan “deserves” to be considered a co-author on these songs or not – such a decision is beyond my expertise and possibly beyond the scope of the law. What I will describe, however, is the two legal defenses being mounted by the hip-hop star’s council, Andrew Bart at Jenner & Block, who is a niche celebrity for his commendable work in a number of high profile cases. Jay Z is first invoking the statute of limitations on copyright cases and second calling into question Mahan’s legal claim to joint authorship, which would require the fulfillment of two criteria. Let’s take a look.

Statute of limitations

There are different statutes of limitations for different crimes, but the limitation for copyright claims is three years. Statutes of limitations are intended to keep lawsuits from being held over the heads of otherwise law abiding citizens and to aid in court efficiency. It isn’t desirable, from a legal standpoint, to allow claims to be made on actions in the distant past, as this can lead to blackmail, extortion or testimony that is simply unreliable due to the passage of time.

By this standard, Mahan’s claim is more than ten years past due. There are some situations in which statutes of limitations are waived, however, and it is on this that Mahan is banking with a suit for declaratory relief. I think that it is unlikely that such relief will be granted, particularly considering the wide distribution that Jay Z’s album received, but it is possible.

Proving joint authorship

If Mahan’s relief were to be granted, the case would then come down to the Second Circuit’s two-part test for establishing joint authorship. Under this test, putative joint authors must show the following.

  1. The collaborators intended to create a joint work.
  2. Each collaborator made independently copyrightable contributions to the end product.

Mahan’s case goes into detail proving the second element of this test – I think that he has a solid case. However, his complaint fails to allege any facts that would demonstrate both he and Jay Z intended to create a joint work. While this may seem like a raw technicality, it is here that Mahan’s case falls down. I expect that, one way or another, the court will find in favor of Jay Z.

Last year, I wrote a post regarding Jay-Z’s legal bouts when he allegedly broke sports agent laws last year. As a sports & entertainment attorney, I detailed the events of the case fairly closely, if you are interested in finding out the full story you can check it out here:

Follow up with the legal bouts of other famous hip-hop artists with some of these previous posts:

  • Snoop Dogg in Hot Water Over Labor Laws
  • Kanye West Faces Copyright Infringement Lawsuit
  • Rick Ross Stage Name Protected Under First Amendment
  • Beastie Boys Lawsuit Highlights When Sampling Can Constitute Copyright Infringement

Jay Z’s Two Lines of Legal Defense

Author: Scarinci Hollenbeck, LLC

The current lawsuit involving Jay Z and sound engineer Chauncey Mahan is no different. The case is anything but straightforward, but the heart of it is nothing new. Mahan alleges to have worked on 45 songs with the hip-hop star, including “Things That U Do,” “Big Pimpin” and numerous unpublished outtakes from Vol 3… The Life and Times of S. Carter.

Jay-Z
By i am guilty (JAY-Z) [CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Mahan is an industry celebrity in his own right, having collaborated with stars like Whitney Houston, Notorious B.I.G., R Kelley and Missy Elliot, but unsurprisingly, the artists themselves found significantly more fame and fortune than the sound engineer. In his 84-page complaint, Mahan demands that he be considered a joint author on the songs that he worked on with Jay Z to create. He also tells a version of the birth of hip-hop itself, its transition into the recording studio and describes the genre’s African-derived musical aesthetics.

Jay Z’s defense

I won’t get into whether Mahan “deserves” to be considered a co-author on these songs or not – such a decision is beyond my expertise and possibly beyond the scope of the law. What I will describe, however, is the two legal defenses being mounted by the hip-hop star’s council, Andrew Bart at Jenner & Block, who is a niche celebrity for his commendable work in a number of high profile cases. Jay Z is first invoking the statute of limitations on copyright cases and second calling into question Mahan’s legal claim to joint authorship, which would require the fulfillment of two criteria. Let’s take a look.

Statute of limitations

There are different statutes of limitations for different crimes, but the limitation for copyright claims is three years. Statutes of limitations are intended to keep lawsuits from being held over the heads of otherwise law abiding citizens and to aid in court efficiency. It isn’t desirable, from a legal standpoint, to allow claims to be made on actions in the distant past, as this can lead to blackmail, extortion or testimony that is simply unreliable due to the passage of time.

By this standard, Mahan’s claim is more than ten years past due. There are some situations in which statutes of limitations are waived, however, and it is on this that Mahan is banking with a suit for declaratory relief. I think that it is unlikely that such relief will be granted, particularly considering the wide distribution that Jay Z’s album received, but it is possible.

Proving joint authorship

If Mahan’s relief were to be granted, the case would then come down to the Second Circuit’s two-part test for establishing joint authorship. Under this test, putative joint authors must show the following.

  1. The collaborators intended to create a joint work.
  2. Each collaborator made independently copyrightable contributions to the end product.

Mahan’s case goes into detail proving the second element of this test – I think that he has a solid case. However, his complaint fails to allege any facts that would demonstrate both he and Jay Z intended to create a joint work. While this may seem like a raw technicality, it is here that Mahan’s case falls down. I expect that, one way or another, the court will find in favor of Jay Z.

Last year, I wrote a post regarding Jay-Z’s legal bouts when he allegedly broke sports agent laws last year. As a sports & entertainment attorney, I detailed the events of the case fairly closely, if you are interested in finding out the full story you can check it out here:

Follow up with the legal bouts of other famous hip-hop artists with some of these previous posts:

  • Snoop Dogg in Hot Water Over Labor Laws
  • Kanye West Faces Copyright Infringement Lawsuit
  • Rick Ross Stage Name Protected Under First Amendment
  • Beastie Boys Lawsuit Highlights When Sampling Can Constitute Copyright Infringement

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