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Saturday, December 9, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Saturday, December 9, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Gospel Singers Say ‘Fair Use’ Does Not|Include Obscenity-Laced Hip-Hop Version

CHICAGO (CN) - Gospel singers sued Rick Ross, Jay Z and Dr. Dre, claiming the hip-hop superstars sampled their tune without permission on Ross's Grammy-nominated album "God Forgives, I Don't" and "laced plaintiffs' gospel work" with vile language.

Clara Shepherd Warrick and Jimmy Lee Weary sued William Roberts II aka Rick Ross; Andre Young aka Dr. Dre; Shawn Carter aka Jay Z; Jacob Dutton aka Jake One, a producer; Universal Music Group; Universal Music Publishing Group; and Island Def Jam Music Group, in Federal Court.

Warrick and Weary wrote a gospel song, "I'm So Grateful," in 1976.

"Plaintiffs' song was first distributed circa 1976 by their gospel singing group, Crowns of Glory, on an album titled 'God Save the Children.' Since the release of the song, Shepherd and/or Weary have performed plaintiffs' song all over the world," the complaint states.

"On or about July 31, 2012, Rick Ross and Def Jam released the rap album entitled 'God Forgives - I Don't.' This rap album contains a song entitled '3 Kings,' which was produced by Jake One and feature lyrical rap presentations by Rick Ross, Dr. Dre, and Jay Z.

"Defendants sampled and copied additional, substantial original elements of plaintiffs' Song without plaintiffs' permission, when they wrote, recorded, performed and made derivative works of the 3 Kings song. ...

"None of the defendants contacted plaintiffs to ask for permission to use plaintiffs' Song in the 3 Kings song.

"The 'God Forgives - I Don't' album lists Weary as one of the writers of the 3 Kings song. Weary, however, was not contacted for permission to use his name or likeness on the defendants' album."

Warrick and Weary complain that the defendants filled their religious tune with foul language: "Defendants have hijacked music and lyrics that were written by plaintiffs to be performed only as spiritually uplifting gospel music and have laced plaintiffs' gospel work with unsavory language such as '[i]f you real motherf***er scream cheers,' '[i]f the b**** bad I got her in red bottoms,' 'I only love her when that a** fat,' '[c]ome and suck a d*** for a millionaire,' 'N****s couldn't f*** with my daughter's room,' 'I whip the coke [cocaine], let the lawyer beat the case,' and 'spray these n****s baby just like daddy taught ya.' [Spelling and brackets as in complaint.]

"Defendants' use of plaintiffs' work in the manner used continues to destroy the commercial value of the song in gospel circles. Defendants' use of plaintiffs' work is also destroying rather than enhancing the overall integrity and longevity of plaintiffs' gospel song. After the current use of plaintiffs' copyrighted work on the rap album by Rick Ross, Dr. Dre, Jay Z and Jake One, plaintiffs' song will soon have no value in the gospel community.

"Additionally, due to a recent Grammy nomination for the Rick Ross album containing plaintiffs' work, the likelihood of irreparable harm to plaintiffs has been greatly enhanced by the potential for a worldwide airing of the defendants' infringing song or re-release of the defendants' song."

"God Forgives, I Don't" was nominated for a Grammy for Best Rap Album. The winner will be announced at the 55th Grammy Awards on Feb. 10, a Sunday.

"Upon information and belief, the Grammy Awards telecast will average more than 20 million domestic viewers, will be broadcast in more than 170 countries, will be seen by nearly a billion worldwide viewers and will be covered by several hundred print and broadcast media outlets around the world.

"Once the Grammy Awards are broadcast, the listeners will be alerted to the existence of plaintiffs' song, at which time it will be subjected worldwide to the irreparable harm of being linked to defendants' song. This makes court intervention necessary to protect plaintiffs' valuable intellectual property rights from defendants' wholesale acts of infringement," the complaint states.

Warrick and Weary also object to the "3 Kings" music video, which "features a montage of clips of Rick Ross, Dr. Dre and Jay Z throughout their careers. This video has received millions of views and contributed to the success of the infringing song. Upon information and belief, the video was prepared at the direction of defendant Dr. Dre. The video includes very graphic depictions of drug use, vulgarity, nudity, gun violence, criminal conduct, actions demeaning to women and many other items that are certainly inconsistent with plaintiffs' wishes for how plaintiffs' song would be portrayed."

Warrick and Weary seek an injunction prohibiting the defendants from performing "3 Kings" at the Grammys or selling the album "God Forgives, I Don't," and punitive damages for copyright infringement, unfair trade practices, unfair competition, conspiracy, and unjust enrichment.

They are represented by James Montgomery Jr. with Cochran, Cherry, Givens, Smith & Montgomery.

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