They don’t exactly trip off the tongue and their novelty already is suspect. But terse phrases such as Get it poppin, That’s what’s up, Fire in the hole, and You got the right one have been found by courts insufficiently original and distinctive for copyright protection. (See Prunte v. Universal Music Group 699 F. Supp 2d 15, 25-30 D.D.C. 2010)
Now, a federal court in Miami has expanded this lexicon to include four more words in sequence: every day I’m hustlin. That phrase, U.S. District Court Judge Kathleen M. Willams found in a decidedly narrow ruling, cannot be copyrighted, and, therefore, rapper Ricky Ross cannot pursue infringement claims against defendant Stefan Gordy and others associated with the group LMFAO. They had slapped a similar phrase, every day I’m shufflin, on a lucrative line of T-shirts and other merchandise, and Ross had claimed a copyright violation.
Ricky Ross? Why, besides his musical ventures, is he a familiar name to those unfamiliar with the rap genre? The last time the blog visited his legal affairs, Ross, aka William Lenard Roberts II, had won an appellate scuffle over his nom de guerre with Ricky D. Ross, aka “Freeway Ricky Ross,” a notorious Los Angeles cocaine dealer.
The battle with LMFAO
Roberts-Ross, the combative former Florida corrections officer, achieved some financial and musical success, especially with his debut album, Port of Miami, featuring his hit, Hustlin. He soon, however, found himself embroiled in a copyright dispute with a pair of LA electro-poppers, Stefan Gordy and Skyler Gordy, aka LMFAO. He claimed their Party Rock Album, including their hit Party Rock Anthem infringed on his work with its phrase every day I’m shufflin.
Judge Williams ruled on a summary judgment motion just as to the issue about the disputed phrase and whether it might be copyrighted and infringing on T-shirts and other merchandise. She said the “average lay observer” would not confuse the shufflin T-shirts with Hustlin, nor “without reference” to the Party Rock tune and album would that observer think the disputed phrase had been “appropriated” from Ross’ work.
A car maker, merchandising
Meantime, the litigation continues to decide copyright issues concerning the songs themselves, with Kia Motors included as a defendant because the automaker used the disputed LMFAO tune in one of its creative commercials featuring some hip-hopping hamsters.
By the way, lest anyone outside the industry think that the legal battling over T-shirts sounds trifling, it’s worth looking back at another post from the blog as to the outsized role that merchandise now plays in the music business.