ATLANTA (CN) – Grammy Award-winning gospel singer Shirley Caesar sued Atlanta-based DJ Keenan Webb for the unauthorized use of one of her songs in the viral #UNameItChallenge remix video.
The video, which Webb, also known as DJ Suede, removed from YouTube after the lawsuit was filed, is a remix of Caesar rapping a list of food names with an almost other-worldly conviction.
The video went viral in November, spawning a dance craze before it was removed.
In a complaint filed December 27 in DeKalb County Superior Court, Caesar claims that DJ Suede and his manager, Jullian Boothe, knew that they did not have the rights to her song “Hold My Mule,” but chose to release a remix of it anyway, and enter into a distribution deal with Empire Distribution Inc.
The remix, “U Name It Challenge,” became a viral sensation, garnering over 10 million views on YouTube in just one month.
A Gwinnett County Superior Court judge granted Caesar’s request for preliminary injunction in early December, and the parties began t negotiate a licensing agreement.
However, the talks broke down and an agreement was never reached.
Caesar then decided to record her song with a major recording artist and began negotiating a deal with a major label, the complaint says.
Spin magazine later reported that the artist in question was Snoop Dogg and that the proceeds from the recording were to be dedicated to feeding the hungry.
“At this point, it came to [Caesar’s] attention that not only had the Defendants entered into an agreement with Defendant Empire, but that the record (a different version than the internet version initially remixed by the Defendants) had been released on iTunes prior to them securing [Caesar’s] permission and negotiating permission to use [Caesar’s] master recording of the song,” the complaint says.
The record is now being played in dozens of markets and a video for the song has been released and prominently featured on the Empire TV YouTube page. Since neither DJ Suede nor Empire Distribution Inc. secured the rights to the composition, Caesar is deprived of all iTunes royalties and streaming income from Pandora, Spotify, and other outlets.
The blow to Caesar isn’t just financial, though – she says her reputation has suffered as well.
“[Caesar’s] brand is well known for its positive Christian messages, which is being diluted by not only the Defendants’ infringement but also their reckless disregard for the images portrayed in the unauthorized release of their video. The illegal video promotes the consumption of alcohol, lewd dancing, cursing, and other vulgarities that negatively and permanently impact the ministry, the reputation, and the brand of Plaintiff Pastor Caesar, which she has worked decades to establish,” the complaint says.
Caesar says the illegal release of the song has also prevented her from releasing a Thanksgiving-Christmas holiday album she recently recorded.
“On a daily basis, Plaintiffs are losing substantial business opportunities resulting in irreparable harm,” the complaint says.
Jullian Boothe, DJ Suede’s manager, declined to comment on the matter.
Caesar is seeking a permanent injunction on the DJ and his management, a public admission that they infringed on her work, a full accounting of all proceeds from the release of the viral remix, and payment of her attorney fees and court costs.
She is represented by James Walker Jr. of Atlanta.