A New Zealand judge said Eminem’s lyrics “You own it, you better never let it go” turned out to be prophetic after ruling a political party breached copyright by using a song similar to Eminem’s Lose Yourself in its campaign ads.
New Zealand High Court Judge Helen Cull yesterday ordered the conservative National Party to pay the Detroit rapper’s publisher NZ$600,000 (US$415,000) plus interest.
The case earlier featured odd moments such as gowned lawyers listening studiously to profanity-laced rap and Eminem collaborator Jeff Bass flying in from Detroit to play the song’s distinctive opening riff, which he wrote.
“We think it’s a very strong judgement and a cautionary tale for people who make or use sound-alikes around the world,” said Adam Simpson, a Sydney-based lawyer who represented Eminem publisher Eight Mile Style.
“We hope that we see more original music in advertising as a result, and that writers get properly acknowledged and rewarded for their hard work,” he said.
Speaking by telephone from Detroit, Eight Mile Style publisher Joel Martin said he had been infuriated during the trial by the defense’s absurd contention that Lose Yourself was not original because it used the same chords as other songs.
“They could have said anything but question its originality,” he said.
Martin said he had not yet discussed the ruling with Eminem, also known as Marshall Mathers III, but was glad the rapper had not been needed to travel to New Zealand “to watch the paint dry in the court room.”
National Party President Peter Goodfellow said in a statement that he was disappointed with the ruling.
He said the party purchased the music in good faith from an Australia-based library that had bought it from a US supplier.
He said the party was considering its next steps and had already lodged a claim against the suppliers and licensers of the sound-alike track.
The National Party ran a television ad 186 times that used the song Eminem Esque during its successful 2014 election campaign before pulling the ad off the air.
In her 132-page ruling, Cull said Eminem Esque sounded like a copy and was a copy, reproducing the essence of Lose Yourself.
She said it was no coincidence the composer of Eminem Esque had the music to the original in front of him when he wrote his song.
The judge based the amount of the award on a hypothetical license fee that the party might have paid to use the song.
She said that Eight Mile Style rarely grants permission to use Lose Yourself in advertising.
Cull stopped short of awarding additional damages, saying the party had only used the song after receiving professional advice that it could do so and had not acted recklessly.
She has yet to rule on who will pay the hefty legal costs.
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