Lawsuit seeks $10 million in damages from Mac Miller
On July 9, hip-hop veteran Lord Finesse filed a $10 million lawsuit against Mac Miller, Miller's label Rostrum Records and mixtape site DatPiff.com.
According to the suit, Miller "willfully infringed plaintiff's exclusive copyrights" when he sampled Finesse's "Hip 2 Da Game" for "Kool Aid & Frozen Pizza," a single off Miller's free 2010 mixtape, "K.I.D.S." The suit claims that Miller was then able to profit from the unauthorized sample by giving away mixtapes to build a fan base that would later buy albums and concert tickets. In November, Miller's "Blue Slide Park" became the first independently distributed debut album to arrive atop the Billboard 200 since 1995. Miller and his representatives declined to comment for this story, but the 20-year-old MC justified his sampling on Twitter.
"I made that record and video as nothing more than an 18 year old kid who wanted to rhyme and pay homage, no other intentions," read a tweet posted to Miller's account (@MacMiller, 2.5 million followers) on July 11. "When I heard there was a problem, I reached out to him to try and solve it. No response."
"I love mixtapes but this is different. And it's not a sample," Finesse said in a statement released by his attorney on July 12. "Mac didn't take a piece of music and create something new. He didn't transform it into something other than what it was. He just dropped the needle on my record and changed the title."
Free mixtapes that feature songs with unlicensed samples have long been considered outside of copyright law jurisdiction, but Finesse's lawsuit follows a string of recent legal action against rappers sampling copyrighted material that seek statutory damages, which allows copyright holders to seek compensation with respect to any one work, according to U.S. copyright law.
Earlier this year, the Persuaders' Robert Poindexter filed suits against Kanye West and 50 Cent over samples used on mixtapes, while singer Karma-Ann Swanepoel sued Lil Wayne in 2008 for unlawful sampling. The suits claim that while the artists didn't make money from the tapes, the promotional benefits helped boost their career and increase net income.
"A mixtape is a commercial for an artist," says Manatt, Phelps & Phillips music attorney Daniel Stuart, who has negotiated dozens of infringement cases pertaining to commercial records and free mixtapes. "There are two commercial benefits: the direct benefits, which are the dollars collected, and the indirect benefits. If you benefit from increased brand awareness, there could be a plausible argument that there could be indirect commercial damages from that kind of use."
Stuart says almost all suits of this nature are settled out of court, as legal fees can mount substantially. Defendants can cite fair use in court, but he says artists should go through the proper channels to avoid legal action: "I would advise artists to clear all samples on free mixtapes before exposing the material to the public."