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George Clinton has filed a federal copyright lawsuit against members of the Black Eyed Peas, UMG Recordings, and Cherry Hill Music for sampling his song, (Not Just) Knee Deep, on a Grammy-award nominated album.
According to the complaint filed on Friday in U.S. District Court in Las Angeles, Clinton’s song wound up in remixes of the Black Eyed Peas’ song, Shut Up, first released in 2003.
Clinton’s original song appeared on his 1979 album, Uncle Jam Wants You, and ran more than 15 minutes long. An edited version reached #1 on the Billboard Black Singles chart, besting Michael Jackson‘s first solo hit.
(Not Just) Knee Deep was later sampled by artists such as De La Soul, LL Cool J, MC Hammer, Snoop Dogg, and Tupac Shakur.
Clinton, a funk pioneer, has become more aggressive on the copyright front in past years with several cases involving his intellectual property. He’s enjoyed some success in court, getting a judge for example to acknowledge his ownership in the legendary phrase, “Bow wow wow yippie yo yippie yay.” The victories seem to emboldening him on the legal front.
He’s now going after sampling, something that’s technically illegal from a copyright standpoint (depending on the nature of use), but also something that is rarely pursed. Violators are often given a free pass.
According to the complaint, Clinton became aware of the Black Eyed Peas’ use of his old song when a record producer for the band came to him in 1999 and requested license for a new remix of Shut Up.
Clinton says he rejected the request, not knowing at the time that his song had already been sampled by the band in a prior version. He says the sample was used by the Black Eyed Peas anyway on the album, The E.N.D., which was nominated for a Grammy Award for Album of the Year.
Clinton is seeking maximum statutory damages of $150,000 per infringement and an injunction prohibiting further distribution of the infringing song.
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