Jay Z Argues Sound Engineer's Song Rights Lawsuit Came Too Late

Hip hop artist also explains why Chauncey Mahan shouldn't be considered a joint author of 45 songs
Invision for Parkwood Entertainment

Jay Z has filed a motion to dismiss Chauncey Mahan's lawsuit that asks a judge to declare the sound engineer to be a joint author of 45 songs, including "Big Pimpin" and "Things That U Do," plus unpublished outtakes from Vol 3… The Life and Times of S. Carter.

The lawsuit has the potential of setting some legal precedent on the issue of co-authorship in the collaborative realm that is music, but first it needs to get past Jay Z's argument that it was filed in a timely fashion. If there's any evidence needed that the hip hop musician is taking this particular lawsuit seriously, he's retained Andrew Bart at Jenner & Block. The attorney's recent cases include getting a $41 million jury verdict on behalf of Capitol Records against the founder of MP3Tunes, representing Sony Music in a case against United Airlines and successfully defending Warner Bros. in claims the studio knocked off Louis Vuitton handbags shown in The Hangover Part II.

With big legal firepower at his disposal, Jay Z reiterates past accusations that Mahan "attempted to wrongfully extract a large sum of money in exchange for the return of computer sound files," but the extortion allegation isn't fodder for a cross-claim. Rather, it's part of a more nuanced effort to paint the plaintiff as one who sat on his claims too long.

"After 14 years of silence, Petitioner’s claims (and his attempt to use the federal courts as part of his shakedown scheme) are outrageous and wholly without merit," states the memorandum in support of tossing the lawsuit. "More significantly, for purposes of this Motion, the claims are plainly barred by the three-year statute of limitations contained in the Copyright Act, and have been for more than a decade."

The defendants argue that Mahan had ample notice through copyright registration certificates, album liner notes and more that he wasn't a co-author. The fact that the recordings were so popular is cited as being even more reason why he should have objected sooner. As for the outtakes, Jay Z's legal papers say they were just "preliminary and intermediate versions" of the album, and so the same standards towards constructive notice apply.

Jay Z would surely like to nip this lawsuit quickly.

But what if the judge allows Mahan's declaratory relief valid while nixing any attempt to recover damages from songs released so long ago?

The defendant points to the 2nd Circuit's two-part test for joint authorship. Mahan's 84-page complaint focuses heavily on the second part where he must show he made independently copyrightable contributions to the work. But there's also test that the parties fully intended, at the time of creation, to be a co-author.

"Here, Petitioner must allege enough plausible grounds to infer Roc-A-Fella’s intent to create a work of joint authorship with Petitioner, or to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal such evidence. But Petitioner has failed to allege any facts in this regard, and has in fact made allegations that demonstrate the opposite."

Separately, Roc-A-Fella has also filed a motion to dismiss premised on the fact that Jay Z transferred his interest in the recordings to Universal Music and thus, it doesn't belong as a party to the litigation.

Email: Eriq.Gardner@THR.com
Twitter: @eriqgardner

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