RZA Protecting His Neck Against Sampling Theft Allegations (Exclusive)

RZA BET Hip-Hop Awards - P 2013
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RZA BET Hip-Hop Awards - P 2013

RZA, the acclaimed Wu Tang Clan member, record producer and budding filmmaker, is attempting a new offensive tack against those who accuse him of sampling theft.

This week, he filed a lawsuit against JVC Kenwood Holdings, a multinational company whose holdings include Teichiku Entertainment, which is said to be in the business of acquiring rights to musical sound recordings and compositions.

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RZA (born Robert Diggs) is upset that the record label Island Def Jam has withheld more than $50,000 in royalties based on the claims that one of Teichiku's sound recordings was illicitly used on Kanye West's 2010 song, "Dark Fantasy," which RZA produced.

As a result, RZA is going to court to get a declaration that "Dark Fantasy" is not an infringement. It's just one of several lawsuits that the RZA has planned on this front.

Sampling theft allegations are becoming increasingly common. Jay-Z, Madonna and Beastie Boys are among the artists in court over pending claims.

According to the latest lawsuit, RZA was notified that "Dark Fantasy" contained an unauthorized sample from "Gincyo Watadori" performed by Meiko Kaji. The defendant demanded compensation.

What happened next, according to RZA's court papers, was that West's label Island Def Jam refused to pay royalties, claiming "that it is entitled to indemnification from plaintiff against defendant's copyright infringement claim."

So RZA is going to court against the accuser in an attempt to show the sampling allegation has no merit. He's represented by Stephen Rothschild and Howard King at King, Holmes, Paterno & Berliner.

King provides more information.

"We see dozens of baseless copyright-infringement claims against our clients every year," he tells The Hollywood Reporter. "Rather than engaging in costly and fruitless dialogue trying to convince claimants and their contingency lawyers that our clients do not succumb to extortion and settle ridiculous claims, we have decided to commence declaratory relief actions to squash some of these claims and, perhaps, recover our costs of defending same. The RZA complaint is the second one of these we have filed this month, with more to come."

King adds that the claim made by Teichiku Entertainment is that RZA sampled a short piano run.

"RZA did not use Teichiku’s piano run, and it sounds different from the one in 'Dark Fantasy,' " says King. "In fact, it would have been technologically impossible to sample the piano run without the rest of the music in 'Gincyo Watadori,' and the piano run in 'Gincyo' is so simple that the least talented person in the studio could have replayed it had anyone wished to do so."

Daniel Rubin, an attorney for Teichiku, responds.

"It's not just the piano melody that was sampled, but also the orchestral backing was sampled too," he says. "We made this claim in June of last year, and in our attempts to settle this matter, they've made many offers. We wanted a much larger sum than they were willing to give us, so we didn't take it."

Rubin adds that his side has run a test that revealed that the RZA's song emanated from "Gincyo."

E-mail: eriq.gardner@thr.com; Twitter: @eriqgardner