(CN) – A man whose song “I Need a Freak” was sampled in the Black Eyed Peas’ hit “My Humps” won his copyright infringement lawsuit against a former collaborator in Manhattan Federal Court.
Songwriter Orrin Lynn Tolliver Jr. sued James Louis McCants for allegedly selling the rights to Tolliver’s song “I Need a Freak” to the hip-hop group Black Eyed Peas without his permission. Tolliver also named group member Will Adams and his company, Will I Am Music Inc., as defendants in his complaint.
U.S. District Judge John F. Keenan ruled for Tolliver on his remaining claim against McCants, after deciding in March that Tolliver was the sole owner of “I Need a Freak.” He granted McCants’ motion to reconsider a day after the opinion was issued.
McCants was unable to prove that he was the song’s co-writer.
Judge Keenan said McCants “has advanced a variety of unsuccessful, and often contradictory, theories in his defense.”
“Throughout this litigation, [he] repeatedly changed his position as it became clear that no evidence supported it,” the judge wrote.
At the center of the dispute was “My Humps,” which reached number three on the U.S. Billboard charts and won the 2007 Grammy Award for “Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal.” It was featured on the Black Eyed Peas’ album “Monkey Business,” which sold more than 3 million copies.
The song it sampled, “I Need a Freak,” was the brainchild of Tolliver, who was working as a DJ in Cleveland in the early 1980s when he formed the concept band Sexual Harassment and recorded the song in McCants’ studio.
“I Need a Freak” was registered with Broadcast Music Inc., with “David Payton” listed as the song’s writer. That was Tolliver’s pseudonym “to keep separate his radio personality and concept band endeavor,” the judge said.
The band’s album, featuring “I Need a Freak,” was released in 1983 on Montage Records and sold 100,000 copies.
Tolliver said he wasn’t aware of the album’s success until he read an article about it in a music magazine.
McCants testified that he was never paid by Montage for the album.
In 2005 McCants licensed portions of “I Need a Freak” to the Black Eyed Peas for its song, “My Humps.” He initially denied issuing the license, but later said he gave the Black Eyed Peas permission to use a different song, also called “I Need a Freak.”
Tolliver also said he learned, in 2000, that the recording had been included in a 1997 compilation album called “In Da Beginning … There Was Rap,” released by Priority Records. McCants denied issuing the license to Priority.
The judge said McCants’ asserted defenses were full of holes.
“He first denied issuing the [Black Eyed Peas] license, then claimed in his answer that he co-authored the composition and that he owned it under the work-for-hire doctrine, and then extended discovery to try and obtain a musicology expert’s report that [“My Humps”] did not even sample the composition,” Keenana wrote. “When none of these theories panned out, he claimed for the first time on this motion that he owned the composition by virtue of an assignment from plaintiff. He testified at deposition that this was oral assignment. Nonetheless, he now seeks to add a laches defense based on the supposed loss of a written assignment that, by all accounts, never existed.”
McCants had never claimed, until now, that he didn’t have to obtain his former collaborator’s consent before granting the rights to other artists.
“In fact, defendant’s actions indicate that he likely knew that plaintiff would object; otherwise, defendant would have no reason to deny issuing the Black Eyed Peas license or to extend discovery to try to prove that the Black Eyed Peas sampled another song, also entitled ‘I Need a Freak,’ and not the composition,” Judge Keenan noted.
Though “My Humps” won a Grammy and did well commercially, it was met with critical disdain. A reviewer for allmusic.com called it “one of the most embarrassing rap performances of the new millennium, and a Rolling Stone Magazine readers’ poll named “My Humps” the most annoying song of 2007.