Gleaner Editors' Forum | Copyright laws protect short phrases too - Flourgon's lawyers out for a fight
A team of six lawyers from three law firms, were recently in the island at a Gleaner's Editor's Forum representing Michael May, more popularly known as Flourgon.
Stephen Drummond and JoAnn Squillace of the law firm Drummond and Squillace were accompanied by Willie E. Gary, Loreal McDonald, and Larry Strauss of Gary, Williams, Parenti Watson & Gary and Carol Green von Kaul, who specialises in intellectual property, outlined the basis of their argument that international pop star Miley Cyrus has benefited tremendously from misappropriating Flourgon's lyrics in her megahit song We Run Things.
"We took on the case because we believe in it," Drummond said of them filing for punitive damages to the tune of US$300 million against the pop star and her team.
There exists the conception that if the songs don't sound alike, how can one song be stealing from another? Squillace explained that there are a myriad of ways this can happen. "You can steal the actual lyrics, which is what we're claiming here. You can steal melody, and you can actually steal the instrumental musical notes," she said.
"Here, we're talking about lyrics. We're not talking about instrumental melody. Short phrases are copyrightable. It's one word change, and under the law, that makes it substantially similar And it's protected and copyrightable, and he is entitled to due credit. All he's asking for is his due credit and compensation for the work that he created," Squillace continued.
Flourgon's lyrics read: "we run tings, tings nuh run we." Cyrus' lyrics read: 'we run things, things don't run we.'
Squillace cites the first precedent in the case as the federal copyright law, which protects original work. "People may not know or may not have heard he (Flourgon) has a federal copyright registration. His work is protected. But even before that, just the creation of his work once it's made into that artistic form it's automatically copyrighted. He has the extra protection of the federal copyright law," she stressed.
During the forum, it was highlighted that for the same song, due credit and compensation were granted to American rapper- producer Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick for the song's use of the phrasing 'la-da-dee-da-dee.'
"The chorus is the most important part of anybody's song. It's the part of the song that every listener remembers, because it's repeated most often. That's not an accidental placement. That is taking patois, transposing it and interpolating it with the song," Squillace continued.
Jamaica-born Drummond, added his own perspective, that it's a regular occurrence that reggae artistes, musicians and their influence, are muted in bigger arenas. "I'm from the Caribbean, from Jamaica
from Hanover. I can sense the reggae music influence in a myriad of outlets- be it a movie or song and many times, artistes for the most part, they just want to sing. When you see that going on from time to time, it's precedent setting," he said.
The main defendant in this case is Sony Music Entertainment, the company that handles the music marketing and production for Miley Cyrus. There is also Cyrus herself, who has her own company called Smiley Miley Incorporated a company used to make recording contracts. Also in the company of the defendants are the co-writers and producers of the song, Michael Williams (Mike Will Made It) and brothers Theron and Timothy Thomas (from the Virgin Islands), as well as Cyrus' manager, Larry Rudolph.
"The Thomas brothers have admitted to a number of media outlets that the Caribbean influence impacts the way they write songs and music. We think there's a direct link to establish how they came up with Cyrus' song," Drummond said.