A U.S. district court judge ruled the lyrics ‘party and bullshit’ constitute fair use.
A copyright lawsuit brought by a member spoken-word group The Last Poets over lyrics used in The Notorious B.I.G.'s 1993 hit “Party and Bullshit” has been dismissed, according to court documents reviewed by Billboard. The suit, originally filed in March 2016 by poet Abiodun Oyewole, alleged that the title the track and its hook lifted words from Oyewole's 1968 spoken-word track “When The Revolution Comes,” and had sought $24 million in damages.
The original lawsuit did not just include the Biggie track, but also referred to Rita Ora's 2012 single “How We Do (Party),” which samples the hook “Party and Bullshit.” (Originally, it also cited the 2014 Busta Rhymes and Eminem track “Calm Down,” naming both Trevor Smith and Marshall Mathers as defendants, though Oyewole later voluntarily dismissed those claims.)
Accordingly, Oyewole named some 14 defendants in his suit, including Rita Ora; the Notorious B.I.G. Estate; “Party and Bullshit” producer Easy Moe Bee and his Bee Moe Easy Music publishing company; Diddy's Justin Combs Company; “How We Do (Party)” producers The Runners (aka producers Jermaine Jackson and Andrew Harr) and The Monarch (aka producers Sean Davidson and Andre Davidson) and songwriter/producer Kelly Sheehan; Motown chief Berry Gordy, Jr. — listed as a songwriter on “How We Do” — and his Jobete Music and Stone Diamond Music publishing companies; Roc Nation, Ora's label at the time; and publishers Warner/Chappell Music, Sony/ATV, EMI Music Publishing, Kobalt Music and Downtown Music, among a handful others.
In a judgement signed Wednesday (March 7), United States District Judge Alison J. Nathan dismissed the case against each defendant, for reasons including failure to state a claim, insufficient process, insufficient service process and protections under the Fair Use doctrine.
In the decision, Judge Nathan found that Oyewole failed to serve Kobalt and Downtown with the lawsuit within the time frame given by the court, even after the time period was extended, and never served Sheehan, Gordy, Easy Moe Bee, Bee Moe Easy, EMI, Justin Combs Company or Stone Diamond Music with paperwork at all. For those defendants that were served, the court found that the fair use doctrine applied to “Party and Bullshit” and “How We Do (Party)” and therefore the two songs do not infringe on Oyewole's copyright for “When The Revolution Comes.”
Following the victory in getting the suit dismissed, attorneys for the estate The Notorious B.I.G., born Christopher Wallace, released statements this morning (March 9), the 21st anniversary his death.
“This is a well-earned victory for the Estate, and it seems like a message from Christopher to receive it on the anniversary his passing,” said Nixon Peabody attorney Julian Petty, who represented the B.I.G. estate. “We're honored to represent a client who is willing to fight and defend such an important legacy.”
Added Nixon Peabody attorney Staci Riordan, “It is gratifying to receive such a strong decision that held Wallace’s use the lyrics 'party and bullshit' was transformative fair use, assuming the phrase was projectable in the first instance. It is no coincidence that we received what is sure to become an influential decision on music copyright infringement cases.”