The lawyer that won the “Blurred Lines” lawsuit has eluded mainstream media attention, but is well-known with music industry circles. Richard Busch, a partner at Nashville firm King & Ballow, has won some of the biggest music business lawsuits in recent memory.
Busch’s best-known case is FBT Productions, LLC. v. Aftermath Records. Detroit-based FBT, Eminem‘s production team, argued the label’s agreements with third-parties download are licenses rather than sales. Big money was at stake — a license would allow FBT a 50% share of the revenue rather than a royalty (16%, for example) on sales revenue. FBT lost on a jury verdict in 2009. That decision was overturned, and the case was settled in 2012.
The victory earned Busch a spot at #93 on Billboard’s Power 100 in 2012 and helped spawn similar lawsuits. Busch represented artists such as Peter Frampton, Toto, Weird Al Yankovich, Kenny Rogers and the estate of Bruce Gary of The Knack. The case also led to a class action suit against Universal Music Group.
Busch first made his mark on the music business with landmark in Bridgeport Music, Inc. v. Dimension Films, filed in 2001. The case centered on a two-second sample of Funkadelic‘s “Get Off Your Ass and Jam” used in NWA‘s “100 Miles and Runnin’.” Bridgeport owns the publishing rights to the composition and claimed use of the song was a violation of copyright. A lower court’s ruling that the sample was not a violation was overturned by a U.S. Court of Appeals in 2005. The decision features the now-famous directive, “Get a license or do not sample.”
Speaking to Billboard in 2012, Busch explained how the Bridgeport lawsuit came to be. While living in New York to prosecute a civil racketeering case, Busch lived in the same building as the copyright administrator for Bridgeport Music. It wasn’t until Busch was back in Nashville, and the copyright administrator was in town for a music conference, that she told Busch of the potential claims that existed for the sampling of Bridgeport’s music. She suggested Busch might be a good fit. Bridgeport v. Dimension was just one of two cases that was tried in federal court, he tells Billboard. “We had 487 cases. The vast, vast majority of them settled.”
Observers of the “Blurred Lines” trial have wondered if the Gaye estate’s victory will spawn more lawsuits with similar claims that a songwriter went too far in borrowing from a progenitor. Will songwriters rush to court in search of millions of dollars? Busch’s comments on the FBT trial’s outcome are instructive. He acknowledged there were many recording artists interesting in making claims but said each case had to be scrutinized on its own merits.
“We get contacted if not daily [then] weekly by artists who are interested in potentially making claims. We take it very seriously, and we evaluate them seriously. We give them what we consider to be advice whether we believe they have a claim or do not. “