George Clinton has filed a copyright lawsuit against members of the Black Eyed Peas, UMG Recordings and Cherry Hill Music for allegedly sampling his song "(Not Just) Knee Deep" on a Grammy-award nominated album.
According to the complaint, filed on Friday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, Clinton's song wound up in remixes of the Black Eyed Peas' "Shut Up," first released in 2003.
Clinton's original song appeared on his 1979 album "Uncle Jam Wants You" and ran more than 15 minutes long. An edited version reached No. 1 on the Billboard Black Singles chart, besting Michael Jackson's first solo hit.
"(Not Just) Knee Deep" was later sampled by artists such as De La Soul, LL Cool J, MC Hammer, Snoop Dogg, and Tupac.
Clinton, a funk pioneer, has become more aggressive on the copyright front in past years with several cases involving his intellectual property. He's enjoyed some success in court, getting a judge to acknowledge his ownership in the legendary phrase, "Bow wow wow yippie yo yippie yay" and winning a ruling that record labels violated his rights by re-releasing four of his 1970s albums. These victories seem to be emboldening him on the legal front.
He's now going after sampling, a music technique that's technically illegal from a copyright standpoint (depending on the nature of the use), but also something that is rarely pursed. Most musicians try to clear samples anyway, but violators have often been given a free pass.
According to the complaint, Clinton became aware of the Black Eyed Peas' use of his old song when a record producer for the band came to him in 1999 and requested a license for a new remix of "Shut Up."
Clinton says he rejected the request, not knowing at the time that his song had already been sampled by the band in a prior version. He says the sample was used by the Peas anyway on the album "The E.N.D.," which was nominated for a Grammy Award for Album of the Year.
Clinton is seeking maximum statutory damages of $150,000 per infringement and an injunction prohibiting further distribution of the infringing song.