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Music producer challenges copyright infringement claims over hit rap song

A Georgia district court previously sided with New Jersey rapper Rackboy Cam in the suit, awarding him $1.4 million and royalties.

ATLANTA (CN) — A rap battle found its way to the 11th Circuit on Tuesday, where judges heard arguments in a producer's appeal of a ruling that he had infringed on rapper Rackboy Cam's copyright of the 2015 song "Everything Be Lit."

The New Jersey rapper whose real name is Anthony Campbell, filed suit in 2018 against Rayshawn Lamar Bennett, professionally known as "YFN Lucci," Rakin Hasheem Allen aka "PnB Rock," Think It's A Game Records, and producer June James. Campbell claimed that their 2016 song "Everyday We Lit" shared similar lyrics and hooks to the song he had released the previous year.

Allen had allegedly performed Campbell's song on stage with him, giving him special access to the work.

In 2021, Senior U.S. District Court Judge Charles Pannell, a Bill Clinton appointee, sided with Campbell, awarding him $1.4 million, and barring the defendants from publicly performing or distributing their song, which had already reached the Billboard Hot 100 chart and was certified gold in 2017.

Campbell also won a 50% running royalty, including for the "Everyday We Lit" remix that features well known hip-hop artists Lil Yachty and Wiz Khalifa.

Bennett and the record label paid confidential settlements to Campbell, and the district court granted his motion for default judgment against James and Allen with damage amounts based on their estimated gross profits.

James, however, appealed the court's judgment, arguing it "inappropriately determined" that he was in partnership with Allen.

"As 'producer' he clearly exerted control over the enterprise," Campbell's attorney's argued in an appellate brief.

BUt James's attorney Dana Gray argued to the three-judge panel Tuesday that because Campbell did not include any evidence of this partnership in his original complaint, joint and several liability for his damages request are not applicable.

According to Gray, James should not be liable for all damages caused by the defendants in the alleged infringement. Gray said that while Campbell could seek to recover profits from James for his alleged individual acts, he failed to do so.

"The court’s order used these limited facts to create a partnership between two Defendants who have never even met. There is nothing in the facts that indicate collaboration or joint action with James. The facts pertaining to James literally
state that he is credited with creating the music, which is commonly done in separate venues and prior to the addition of lyrics," Gray wrote in a brief. "There is nothing plainly stated that James interacted with any of the parties. There is nothing that states what James did in his role as producer. There is nothing that states James directly had any interaction with Plaintiff or his work. Furthermore, there is nothing that states that James even wrote a lyric to the work in question."

U.S. Circuit Judges Elizabeth Branch and Barbara Lagoa, both Donald Trump appointees, expressed concern as to why the District Court rewarded both injunctive relief and running royalties, which is typically used as an alternative relief if an injunction is not granted.

Judge Branch told Campbell's attorney De Preter that despite the District Court's opinion, he did not properly serve James with his amended complaint because the inclusion of the joint and several liability were actually new claims for relief.

Gray also argued in her brief that Campbell is not entitled to statutory damages due to his failure to obtain a copyright registration within the timeline of the U.S. Copyright Act. The attorney wrote that under the Act, these "damages cannot be provided where the effective date of copyright registration was three months after the work was first published or one month after the owner has learned of the infringement."

The circuit judge panel was rounded out by Bill Clinton appointee, Judge Charles Wilson. While the judges did not signal when they intend to issue a ruling, it appears likely that they will reverse, at least in part, the district court's decision.

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