Lil Jon Wins Copyright Ruling Over 'Weedman'
(CN) - The 11th Circuit put to rest a copyright infringement claim against Lil Jon & the East Side Boyz over a song called "The Weedman." A three-judge panel ruled that the freelance musician who helped write the song gave the rap group an implied license to use the track on its "Kings of Crunk" album.
Musician Redwin Wilchcombe first met the rap group at a recording studio, where Lil Jon and his group were laying down tracks for the "Kings of Crunk" album.
According to the ruling, Lil Jon came up with an idea for a song about calling a "weedman" after someone suggested they call a marijuana dealer. Wilchcombe, who was present at the time, sang a chorus and melody that Lil Jon liked. The rapper told Wilchcombe to finish the song for the group's album.
Wilchcombe composed and produced "The Weedman," with regular feedback from Lil Jon. After the plaintiff delivered the track for mixing, Lil Jon & the East Side Boyz added some vocal tracks and ad-libs. The album credited Wilchcombe's production company, Red for Teamwerk, for the song. By January 2005, the "Kings of Krunk" had sold 2 million copies.
Wilchcombe admitted that he never discussed a contract or payment prior to the album's release in October 2002. When he didn't get paid for his contributions, he filed a copyright claim for "Tha Weedman," based on the album version of the song. On his application, he listed himself as the sole author.
He then sued Lil Jon (whose real name is Jonathan Smith), the members of the East Side Boyz, and the labels TeeVee Toons (TVT) and BME Records for breach of fiduciary duty and copyright infringement.
The federal court in Georgia dismissed the lawsuit on the basis that Wilchcombe gave the defendants an implied nonexclusive license to use the song. The plaintiff moved for reconsideration, but the court again tossed out Wilchcombe's claims. Wilchcombe unsuccessfully argued that he had revoked any implied license when his attorney sent TVT a cease-and-desist letter 72 days after the album was released.
He also claimed he had never granted an implied license to TVT, the nation's largest independent record label. Lil Jon owns part of BME Records, which has an exclusive contract with TVT over the rap group's recordings.
The district court said the claims were "new arguments that plaintiff could and should have made before this Court issued its judgment."
When Wilchcombe raised the same arguments on appeal, the federal appeals court sided with the lower court.
"The district court properly rejected these arguments," Judge Birch wrote, "and we likewise refuse to give Wilchcombe a 'second bite at the apple.'"
The court agreed with the conclusion that Wilchcombe had given Lil Jon & the East Side Boyz his implied consent to use "The Weedman" in their album.
The court also pointed out that the plaintiff had asserted solo authorship for his copyright claim, but then said the song was co-authored in order to establish a confidential relationship for his breach of fiduciary duty claim.
The defendants asked the court to grant them summary judgment on the copyright claim for two additional reasons: Wilchcombe can't copyright a song taken from their album containing their ad-libs; and he can't allege copyright infringement on a co-written song.
The court ruled that it "need not determine whether summary judgment was also warranted on this claim," because it was affirming judgment for the defendants based on the existence of an implied nonexclusive license.