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Cleveland disc jockey and early rap artist Orrin Lynn Tolliver, Jr. has just been awarded nearly $1.2 million by a New York jury. The award comes after a former friend and collaborator allowed without permission his 1983 song, “I Need A Freak,” to be sampled by the Black Eyed Peas for the group’s hit song, “My Humps.”
In the early 80s, Tolliver formed a concept band called Sexual Harassment and recorded “I Need A Freak” at his friend and collaborator James McCants‘ studio at Heat Records.
McCants registered the song with BMI, credited Tolliver as the songwriter, and agreed to pay him 75% of royalties.
In 2000, the song was included on the compilation, “In Da Beginning…There Was Rap,” from Priority Records, which caused Tolliver to send McCants a cease-and-desist letter. His former friend and collaborator denied issuing a license.
However, in the proceeding years, the song was sampled for use by other artists, including by the Black Eyed Peas on “My Humps.”
Tolliver sued McCants for copyright infringement.
During the preliminary stages of the case, McCants offered shifting excuses about what had happened. He first denied issuing a license. He then claimed he had co-authored the composition and owned it under the work-for-hire doctrine. He then attempted to obtain a musicologist expert’s report that “My Humps” didn’t sample Tolliver’s work. Finally, he claimed that he owned the composition by virtue of a copyright assignment.
The judge didn’t appreciate these inconsistent statements and ruled for Tolliver on summary judgment.
The case went to a jury to determine the damages. On Tuesday, the jury rendered a verdict. McCants owed Tolliver $816,877.28 in profits and $368,704.31 in actual damages for copyright infringement.
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