MANHATTAN (CN) — The Second Circuit on Friday revived a five-year-old copyright beef between rapper Ghostface Killah and Sony and the composer of 1960’s “Iron Man” theme song, finding the composer had raised points that should have gone to trial.
Plaintiff Jack Urbont sued the celebrated Wu-Tang rapper and his record label in 2011, on claims of copyright infringement, unfair competition and misappropriation.
Urbont’s lawsuit stems from two skits on Ghostface Killah’s 2000 album “Supreme Clientele.” The album’s bookend tracks “Intro” and “Iron’s Theme — Conclusion” incorporate dialogue from the “Iron Man” cartoon and most of the 23-second-long “Iron Man” theme song, penned by Urbont in 1966 for the “Marvel Super Heroes” television show.
The tracks make use of the entire “Iron Man” theme song, which includes the lyrics “Tony Stark makes you feel/He’s a cool exec with a heart of steel/As Iron Man, all jets ablaze/He’s fighting and smiting with repulsor rays/Amazing armor/That’s Iron Man/A blazing power/That’s Iron Man!”
Ghostface Killah, real name Dennis Coles, named his 1996 solo debut album “Iron Man” and referred to himself as Tony Starks — a reference to Iron Man’s alter ego Anthony “Tony” Stark — on fellow Wu-Tang member Raekwon’s 1995 album “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…” For more than 20 years, Ghostface Killah referred to himself as Iron Man and Tony Starks, including the variation Pretty Toney.
A trial court granted summary judgment to the rapper and his label, finding that Urbont failed to raise triable issues of fact regarding copyright infringement.
But on Friday, a three-judge panel of the Second Circuit ruled that Urbont’s state-law claims were properly dismissed, but that he had raised issues of fact regarding federal copyright infringement that should have gone to trial.
While the label argued that Urbont’s song was a work-for-hire and he did not own the copyright — a point the trial court agreed with — Urbont’s testimony that he wrote the song on “spec,” paid for its recording out of his own pocket and has received royalties from music publisher BMI for years should have been explored at trial, the panel ruled.
Circuit Judge Peter Hall wrote the panel’s opinion, which was joined by Circuit Judges Dennis Jacobs and Gerard Lynch.
Urbont actually submitted theme songs for several Marvel characters, including Captain America, Hulk, Thor, Sub-Mariner, and Iron Man on speculation and was ultimately paid $3,000 for all of his contributions.
Marvel — which is not a party to the lawsuit — reportedly paid Ghostface Killah $30,000 for his appearance in a deleted scene in the 2008 “Iron Man” movie.
The parties did not return requests for comment. However, in 2012 Ghostface Killah told MTV News that he believed Urbont’s lawsuit was a play for money.
“I think it’s an old man. I think they woke this dude up or something,” the rapper said. “He ain’t Stan Lee or anything but I guess he’s somebody because he ain’t stopping. It’s like, [why] you coming to me? Go to Sony man, don’t come at me. But that’s what it is, this is the game, man. Everybody out for they bread, whatever they could see, they tryna get it.”
Urbont is represented by Richard S. Busch of King & Ballow in Nashville, Tennessee, and Elliot Schnapp of Gordon, Gordon & Schnapp PLLC in New York.
Sony and Ghostface Killah are represented by Marc S. Reiner at Hand Baldachin & Amburgey LLP in New York.
- Nightly Brief
- Chastised DA’s Office Can Boot Judge off Cases