Jay-Z in copyright dispute

This summer saw the launch of legal proceedings against famous rapper Shawn Corey Carter (most commonly known by his stage name Jay Z) and record label Roc-A-Fella records. The legal proceedings were issued in the District Court of New York by Chauncey Mahan (Grammy award winning producer and sound engineer) under the US Copyright Act 1976.


The claim

Mahan claimed that he should have been acknowledged as a joint author and owner of the copyright in 6 of Jay-z’s albums consisting of 45 sound recordings. Mahan claimed that he was involved in creating the sounds behind the releases due to them being tracked, edited, mixed, arranged and recorded by him at Sony Studios. Mahan further claims that he used has own equipment (then state of the art) alongside Sony’s built in technology. Jay-Z however disputes this claim.


UK Legislation

In the UK copyright is governed by the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988. The section that is relevant to the above scenario is section 10(1) of the CDPA 1988 that states

“A work of joint authorship means a work produced by the collaboration of two or more authors in which the contribution of each author is not distinct from that of the other author or authors”.

With regards to sound recordings, the producer i.e. the person that is responsible for the necessary arrangements for the creation of the recording is considered to be the author of the work.

Applying the above to the Jay Z case, it may be possible to argue in UK law that Mahan would be considered a co-author as he would have contributed sufficient skill and judgement to the end product.

A notable point is that UK legislation does not require that the individual contributions of the joint authors be equal in terms of quantity, quality or originality, further the provisions in the CDPA 1988 may be overridden by any agreement to the contrary. In the above case Mahan claims that there was no written agreement in place regarding the creation of the music albums. This is fine example of where a written agreement is absolutly essential!!! With regards to whether Mahan is successful we shall to watch this space.


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