Jay Z Wants Lawsuit Over Alleged One-Syllable Sample Run Out of Town

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Jay-Z performs at Barclays Center on September 28, 2012 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.

Jay Z and Rihanna's hit song "Run This Town" is in the news again, but this time it doesn't involve Rihanna saying "f-ck you" to a major TV network. As the singer unleashes her fury to CBS for pulling the song from last week's Thursday Night Football, her cohort on the track, Shawn Carter, is busy asking a court to dismiss a lawsuit that alleges he ripped off a single syllable during the making of the 2009 track.

Record label TufAmerica filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against the rapper in November, claiming he illegally sampled the Eddie Bo song "Hook & Sling" on "Run This Town." The litigation-happy label, which notably sued the Beastie Boys a day before Adam Yauch's death, is seeking damages. Details about the alleged infringement were scarce until now, with TechDirt's publication of Jay & team's motion to dismiss, which was filed on Sept. 9.

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According to court documents, TufAmerica believes Jay Z illegally sampled the word "oh" from the 3-second mark of "Hook & Sling," recorded in the mid-1990s. TufAmerica believes that the one-syllable word was used throughout "Run This Town" without permission -- a claim that Jay Z's lawyers call misguided and not applicable to copyright laws, saying that such a sample would be de minimis.

"Plaintiff apparently believes that it has a monopoly on the use of the word 'oh' and that it can stop others from using this word in recorded form," the motion states. "Well-established copyright jurisprudence should allow this Court to disabuse Plaintiff of that notion. First, it is black letter law that words and short phrases are simply not protectable under the Copyright Act. Thus, Plaintiff cannot state a claim based on the alleged infringement of a generic lyric such as, "oh," or the sound recording thereof, and Plaintiffs claims should be dismissed as a matter of law."

The motion adds that even if the "oh" in question was proprietary enough to the Eddie Bo song, it still wouldn't be enough of a sample to warrant copyright protection. Jay Z argues that TufAmerica already knows this fact and presents its recent setback involving "more significant phrases" in another case. In TufAmerica v. Diamond, the label argues that the Beastie Boys illegally used short audio samples from the band Trouble Funk in several of their songs. The court dismissed several of the infringement claims based on the alleged sampling of the phrase "Now I want y'all to break this down" because "such alleged infringements were quantitatively and qualitatively insignificant as a matter of law," according to Jay Z's motion.

It goes on, "One would think that, faced with this decision and the host of authority upon which it is based, Plaintiff would re-evaluate its objectively weaker 'claims' herein. Yet, it has refused, without explanation, to withdraw its claims here based on the objectively less significant sound of 'oh.'"

The motion cites several other cases in its argument that words and short phrases are not original protection expression, including Oldham v Universal Music, in which an unknown rapper claimed Anthony Hamilton and Jadakiss' "Why" copied him by similarly repeating the word "why" in a track about the deaths of Tupac and Notorious B.I.G. 

As TechDirt points out, Jay Z's motion to dismiss does not ague fair use in the alleged sampling of "oh." The motion was filed in U.S. District Court's Southern District of New York on behalf of WB Music Corp., Warner-Tamerlane Publishing, Roc Nation, Atlantic, Roc-A-Fella Records and Carter.