Legal and Management

'Party and Bulls--t': NY Judge Rules Phrase Is Fair Use in Notorious B.I.G., Rita Ora Songs

Biggie Smalls
Clarence Davis/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images

Biggie Smalls

A New York Federal judge ruled that the estate of the Notorious B.I.G. and subsequently Rita Ora were well within their rights to use “party and bullshit” in their songs. Judge Robert Katzmann issued a ruling Sept. 4 that agreed with the lower court decision that the words' use did not constitute copyright infringement. 

The case brought by Adiodun Oyewole had been working its way through the legal system for several years and attorneys representing B.I.G’s estate were thrilled with the judge’s decision. 

“It aligns with most people’s understandings of how the law should work,” said Los Angeles-based partner Staci Jennifer Riordan, who leads Nixon Peabody’s legal team on behalf of B.I.G.’s estate and Ora. “No one should be able to own a phrase, especially if I am not using the phrase or words in the same way. You shouldn’t be prevented from saying ‘party and bullshit’ and phrases like it."

Riordan added that the ruling “gives clarity to future musicians and entertainers on what they can put out in their recordings, music, movies, YouTube or in their content.” 

The lawsuit was filed by Oyewole, a founding member of a The Last Poets, an iconic spoken-word group credited with pioneering rap, which created the song “When the Revolution Comes” in 1968 that used the words “party and bullshit and party and bullshit and party and bullshit and party and bullshit and party” as a refrain.

“When the revolution comes Afros gone be trying to straighten their heads and straightened heads gone be tryin to wear Afros. When the revolution comes. When the revolution comes. When the revolution comes. But until then you know and I know n----s will party and bullshit and party and bullshit and party and bullshit and party and bullshit and party... Some might even die before the revolution comes.” 

In 1993, rapper Christopher Wallace, aka the Notorious B.I.G., created a song called “Party and Bullshit” by sampling “When the Revolution Comes” and remixing the “party and bullshit” phrase. After he died, his estate licensed the phrase to Rita Ora for her single “How We Do (Party),” released in 2012. Oyewole sued both B.I.G.’s estate, Rita Ora for copyright infringement for using the phrase claiming also that he never received any royalties.

While Oyewole argued that the phrase was a protectable expression, the B.I.G. estate argued fair use. In 2018, the lower courts ruled in B.I.G.’s favor, but it wasn’t until this month that decision was just affirmed by the District Court for the Southern District of New York. Riordan said the decision will provide some clarity to musicians concerned about using words that are out there as long as they are used in a different way. Attorney for Oyewole did not respond to a request for comment. 

“The whole purposes of the copyright infringement is to promote innovation and allow people to express themselves ," said Riordan. Strict interpretation of copy right law says Riordan  “inhibits creation and it inhibits the ability of people to be able to build on the work that is out there.  We are happy we are able to make a contribution to clarifying the law and to promoting creativity.”