EMI Sues Over Def Jam Rapstar Video Game

Def Jam Rap Star Cover - P 2012

Def Jam Rap Star Cover - P 2012

We can hardly imagine the difficulties of clearing a hip-hop song for use in a video game. Rap songs are known to include multiple contributors and underlying samples, which means a ton of paperwork. The producers of Def Jam Rapstar, a video game that allows players to pretend they've hit it big as an MC, allegedly failed to complete all the work necessary. The companies behind the game are now being sued for failing to obtain the requisite musical rights on songs featured in the game.

The various subsidiaries of EMI, the music giant that is selling its business to Sony and UMG, filed the lawsuit in New York federal court last week and is alleging substantial damages from the theft of songs performed by Kanye West, DMXLil Wayne, and others.

Def Jam Rapstar was produced by 4mm Games and Terminal Reality, both co-defendants in the lawsuit.

According to the complaint, EMI notified the game-makers about its rights and the publisher's need to account for royalties. EMI says its demands went ignored.

Efforts to reach executives at 4mm were unsuccessful.

Given the participation of Def Jam, a label owned by UMG and not a party to the lawsuit, it's curious why rights weren't fully cleared. From what we've heard, EMI was given a list of songs that were to be used in the game.

EMI is asserting only part-owership in most of the allegedly infringed works. The complaint includes a listing of compositions and sound recordings that were used in the game. Examples include DJ Khaled's "I'm So Hood," which EMI claims 10 percent ownership, MIMS' "This Is Why I'm Hot," a song with 16 writers which EMI claims 16 percent ownership, and Lil Wayne's "Got Money," which EMI claims 30 percent ownership.

EMI also says some of its sound recordings were infringed in the game, such as Daft Punk's "Harder Better Faster Stronger," which was sampled and used by Kanye West in his hit song, "Stronger."

In total, the complaint lists 54 songs that were infringed, and the label wants statutory damages in the amount of $150,000 for each work infringed. Owning a part of a whole still might entitle a plaintiff to full statutory damages; if so, this would represent a lawsuit worth more than $8 million, and likely more because we're not counting the game's net profits, which plaintiffs also demand.

Plus, there might be damages for violations of EMI's other rights because the game is a version of karaoke, which is infamous for its legal wrath. EMI says it owns the rights to distribute, display, and publicly perform, and in this game, players are allowed the ability not only to pick a song and perform it, but also to create playlists in "party mode," make video clips of themselves, and upload it to a community websites.

It's pretty much a grab bag of potential legal claims and now EMI could be on the verge of shutting down the party.

E-mail: eriqgardner@yahoo.com

Twitter: @eriqgardner