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Queen B Must “Get in Formation” for a Lawsuit

Mallory King - February 9, 2017 - Copyright Law, Music Copyright Infringement

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The estate of late rapper Messy Mya has sued Beyoncé for copyright infringement, alleging that Beyoncé used Messy Mya’s voice without permission in the “Formation” music video.  Specifically, Messy Mya can be heard in the beginning of the song saying “What happened after New Orleans?” and “B***h I’m back, by popular demand,” as well as later with Messy Mya’s supposedly signature phrase “Oh yes, I like that.”  Requesting an astronomical $20 million in damages, the estate claims that it has not received any money or acknowledgement from Beyoncé since the February 2016 “Formation” release.

The issue of whether music sampling such as this constitutes copyright infringement has plagued the music industry for some time.  Artists such as 2 Live Crew, MC Hammer, and Vanilla Ice have been targeted in copyright infringement lawsuits based upon the sampling of other tunes like “Oh, Pretty Woman,” “Super Freak,” and “Under Pressure,” respectively.  Some musicians have found protection under the Fair Use Doctrine, which provides defense to copyright infringement claims for works that are “transformative.”

While $20 million might be a drop in the bucket for Queen B, the potential for significant copyright precedent is apparent.  With cases like those against Robin Thicke still pending, copyright law could be drastically altered if music sampling is found as either infringement or fair use.  The question continues to linger – how far is too far when it comes to music sampling?

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