A Texas pastor is suing Kanye West for copyright infringement over allegations that the superstar used unauthorized samples of a recorded sermon in one of the songs on “Donda.”
In a lawsuit filed Tuesday in Dallas federal court, Bishop David P. Moten claimed that roughly 20% of Kanye’s “Come to Life” is composed of a sample from one of his sermons, both at the very beginning and again throughout the song.
“Defendants willfully and without the permission or consent of Plaintiff extensively sampled portions of the Sermon,” Moten wrote. “Over the span of several years, defendants have demonstrated an alarming pattern and practice of willfully and egregiously sampling sound recordings of others without consent or permission.”
A tiny snippet of language that’s commonly used in sermons might seem to be fair game, but federal courts have long held that even the smallest samples of sound recordings must be licensed. In a seminal 2005 ruling, a federal appeals court put it bluntly: “Get a license, or do not sample.”
In Kanye’s case, the alleged illegal sample can be heard at the start of “Come to Life,” in which a voice says “My soul cries out, ‘Hallelujah’ And I thank God for saving me I, I thank God.” Another sample from the same recording is used later in the song: “Hallelujah (Thank You, Jesus) Hallelujah (Yes) Hallelujah…” and the clip appears to play softly in the background at other moments.
“‘Come to Life’ is approximately five minutes and ten seconds (5:10) in length,” Moten wrote. “Approximately one minute and ten seconds (1:10) of this sound recording is sampled directly from Plaintiff’s sermon.”
“Come to Life” was only a minor hit as a single, debuting at 77 on the Hot 100 in September and remaining on the chart for just a week. But “Donda” reached the top of the Billboard 200 and the album spent 35 total weeks on the chart.
A representative for Kanye, who is now legally named Ye, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.