French Montana has officially beat a copyright infringement lawsuit over “Ain’t Worried About Nothin.’” But in issuing its summary judgement, the court acknowledged similarities between the popular track and the plaintiff’s allegedly copied work.
Judge Nancy L. Maldonado just recently ruled in favor of French Montana in the suit – albeit while describing the verdict as “a technical win” as opposed to “a substantive victory” for the defendant rapper.
First filed almost half a decade ago by one Eddie Lee Richardson, known professionally as Hotwire the Producer, the long-running legal battle centered on (besides the aforementioned “Ain’t Worried About Nothin’”) the plaintiff’s “*Hood* Pushin’ Weight” effort.
In the interest of relative brevity, Hotwire the Producer created “*Hood* Pushin’ Weight” in 2012, when he was only 16 years old, and uploaded the track to SoundClick. About six months thereafter, French Montana debuted Rico Love-penned and -produced “Ain’t Worried About Nothin,’” which had about 33 million Spotify streams at the time of this writing.
Upon learning of the latter track, Hotwire “immediately formed the opinion” that elements of his work had been lifted sans authorization or even notice, per the newly published legal text.
Demands from the allegedly ripped-off creator for credit failed to bring about the desired result, the same document recaps, and Hotwire, still a minor at the time, once again, promptly registered “*Hood* Pushin’ Weight” with the Copyright Office.
Unfortunately for the plaintiff producer, this registration only covered the actual recording – not the underlying composition. As described by the court (which acknowledged a similarity of sound between the two works) across 32 detail-oriented pages, this point proved fatal to the complaint.
“Evidence that the infringing work merely contains the same underlying musical composition,” explained Judge Maldonado, “such as the same generic sounds or lyrics, would not establish sound recording infringement, even if the author of such work deliberately set out to imitate the composition and sounds of the copyrighted recording.”
Regarding the possibility that the allegedly infringed recording had been directly sampled in the French Montana release, the judge emphasized the significance of a lack of concrete information regarding the creation of “Ain’t Worried About Nothin.’”
“In short, there is no evidence indicating how Rico Love created the music for AWAN,” Judge Maldonado wrote. “Was it a sampling? Or was it an imitation? In the absence of any evidence or testimony as to how AWAN was created, no reasonable jury could answer this question and draw the inference that sampling occurred in this particular case merely because artists in the industry at large may ‘frequently’ rely on prior recordings to create music.”
Of course, with protection in place for the actual composition behind “*Hood* Pushin’ Weight,” the case could have had a different outcome, the court further reiterated.
“Had Richardson registered for the musical composition in HPW,” the judge noted, “this case might have been very different… In that case, Richardson’s expert evidence as to the similarity of the ‘sounds’ or melodies of the songs likely would have been enough to send this case to trial.”
“If it is any consolation,” Judge Maldonado relayed in conclusion, “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and the Court hopes that Richardson will not be deterred in his musical endeavors, now armed with a better understanding of copyright law. As it is, though, Richardson’s evidence in this particular case is insufficient to establish copyright infringement.”