Sho’ Nuff, some music publishers still may have a financial reckoning ahead with a trio who called themselves Sly, Slick, and Wicked and who have laid claim to hits by Justin Timberlake and J. Cole for sampling their work.
The door had seemed shut on the dispute over royalties from the 1970s track sampled in the singles by Timberlake and J. Cole. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has reopened the copyright suit filed by ’70’s R&B performers John Wilson, Charles Still, and Terrance Stubbs. The band members argued that Dynatone Publishing Co., UMG Recordings Inc., and Unichappel Music Inc., collected royalties from the sampling of their single Sho’ Nuff in two 2013 hit recordings, Justin Timberlake’s Suit & Tie and J. Cole’s Chaining Day.
U.S District Judge Paul Engelmayer dismissed the band’s copyright claims as time-barred, ruling that their claims of copyright ownership had been repudiated during the initial copyright terms. But the appellate judges reversed him in a 3-0 ruling, finding that the R&B group Sly, Slick, & Wicked did not receive reasonable notice about actions involving their work. “If mere registration of a copyright without more sufficed to trigger the accrual of an ownership claim, then rightful owners would be forced to maintain constant vigil over new registrations.” wrote Circuit Judge Pierre N. Leval. “Such a requirement would be vastly more burdensome than the obligations that a ‘reasonably diligent plaintiff’ would undertake.”
The ruling was a victory for original authors of works, indicating that they won’t lose copyright ownership by failing to contest copyright registration by adverse parties.
Renewal Term Claims
Sly, Slick & Wicked registered Sho’ Nuff with the U.S. Copyright Office in 1973, listing Wilson, Still, and Stubbs as composer-lyricists. The 1973 single was released on People Records, a label set up in 1971 by James Brown, who is also credited as the track’s co-producer. Later in the year, Edward Perrell filed a registration with Broadcast Music Inc., listing Perrel Music, Belinda Music, and Dynatone Music as the publishers. In 1974, Chappell & Co, predecessor-in-interest to Unichappell Music Inc., filed a Copyright Office registration of the composition, listing Wilson, Still, and Stubbs as the writers and Dynatone Publishing Co. as the claimant.
Section 304 of the Copyright Act applies to copyrights in their first term on Jan. 1, 1978, and establishes that authors who are still living when the original 28-year copyright term expires are entitled to a renewal and extension of 67 years.
When the original term of protection expired in 2001, and beginning the renewal term, UMG Recordings Inc. renewed its registration. The label is the successor to Ploydor Records, which acquired People Records when Brown, the label’s founder, signed with Ploydor in 1971.
The group claims there are no written agreements with either Sho’ Nuff co-producer Eddie Perrell or People Records that include a “work-for-hire” provision, and that they never transferred renewal terms to either Perrell or People Records. Sly, Slick & Wicked registered their copyright interests for renewal in 2015, when they decided to sue UMG and the other publishing companies for royalties.