Fat Joe and Remy Ma won a federal court ruling Wednesday (Jan. 5) that cleared them of wrongdoing in a copyright lawsuit over their 2016 hit “All the Way Up,” with a judge ruling that they had already paid their accuser years earlier for his alleged contributions to the song.
The case was filed in 2019 by an artist named Eric Elliott, who claimed he had co-authored the song but had been cheated out of proper compensation and ownership rights. Fighting back, Fat Joe argued that he had paid Elliott a lump sum of $5,000 for his contributions shortly after the song was released.
On Wednesday, a federal judge sided with Fat Joe, ruling that Elliott had signed away his rights to “All the Way Up” and could not sue – even if he had later become unhappy with the sum he received.
“Elliott’s retrospective frustration at the amount of money notwithstanding, there is no dispute that Elliott signed the contract, assigning his rights to the song, while simultaneously receiving the $5,000 check from Fat Joe in exchange,” wrote U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald.
Released on March 2, 2016, by Fat Joe and Remy Ma featuring French Montana and Infared, “All the Way Up” was a top 10 hit on Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and peaked at No. 27 on the Billboard Hot 100.
In his lawsuit, Elliott – who uses the stage name Fly Havana – claimed he had co-created the song in late 2015 during a studio session with Infared, who then took the unfinished track and added contributions by Fat Joe, Remy Ma and French Montana.
When he later demanded credit, Elliott said he was told to meet Fat Joe at a Miami IHOP, where he was offered $5,000 and pressured to sign a document. He said he eventually did so, because he felt intimidated by the rapper’s “reputation on the street” and because Fat Joe assured him he would receive more compensation later.
“Mr. Elliott had no idea that Fat Joe had told him a series of lies calculated to deceive Plaintiff, designed to relax his vigilance, and lull him in to a false sense of security,” he wrote at the time. “He would never have taken the $5,000 or signed any document had he any inkling he was being double crossed.”
In addition to Fat Joe and Remy Ma – real names Joseph Anthony Cartagena and Reminisce Smith Mackie – the lawsuit also named a slew of other individual defendants, including French Montana (Karim Kharbouch), Infared (Shandel Green) and various entities involved in the song, including Warner/Chappell Music Inc.
Ahead of Wednesday’s ruling, a key issue in the case was locating evidence of the agreement that was purportedly signed in that IHOP. The actual document was lost and could not be found, even after several rounds of subpoenas to Fat Joe’s former manager. Judge Buchwald eventually agreed to accept a draft of the agreement as evidence of what Elliott actually signed.
Under the terms of that draft, the judge wrote Wednesday, Elliott had clearly signed away any rights to the song in exchange for the $5,000.
“By its terms, the agreement unambiguously assigns any ownership rights, copyright rights, and any additional rights that Elliott had in the Composition and the Master,” Judge Buchwald wrote.
In her ruling, the judge also rejected several other arguments from Elliott, like the claim that Fat Joe fraudulently persuaded him to sign the deal by making false promises of further payment. Though the rapper has denied making such promises, Judge Buchwald said it would not have mattered if he had, since the contract expressly stated that the written agreement was the only deal that mattered.
“Try as he might, Elliott cannot avoid the clear and plain language of the contract that ‘no additional compensation … will be due to Elliott,’” the judge wrote. “Any alleged statements regarding future or additional compensation are explicitly contradictory to these specific and unambiguous provisions of the contract.”
Attorneys for both sides — Francis Malofiy of Francis Alexander LLC for Elliott and Eleanor Lackman of Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp LLP for Fat Joe and Remy Ma – did not immediately return requests for comment on Wednesday evening.