Kanye West’s “Famous” copyright infringement

Kanye West is known among his fans as well as raps fans for his controversial music and lyrics. Kanye West’s most recent album, ”Life of Pablo”, has added even more fuel to the controversy fire. West already has a lawsuit against him by the music site Tidal and it seems he may be expecting another for the music video ”Famous” – a song off of the album.

West, initially, stated that the album would only be found on Tidal and not Apple, Spotify or any other music site yet shortly after fans were able to buy the album off of the said sites. West was sued by S. Carter Enterprises as a result of this breach in contract.

This suit is still ongoing.Kanye West

Another suit West has been involved in is that for his song ”New Slaves” off his 2013 ”Yeezus” album.

Hungarian composer Gábor Presser alleged that Kanye West’s ”New Slaves” bore heavy resemblance to his own composition, ”Gyongyhaju Lany,” (released in 1969) which can be heard towards the end of ”New Slaves”. Presser further alleged that he had not been aware that his song was used until after the release of West’s song.

However West counter-claimed that his management did in fact reach out to Presser about using the song, ”Gyongyhaju Lany” and that Presser initially agreed. A formal licensing agreement was supposed to be sent however it never came. West, then, sent Presser 10,000 dollars as an advance which Presser claims he never cashed and that that was the only payment he has received since.

The case is being heard in court.

The reason Kanye West may find himself being faced with yet another copyright infringement lawsuit is due to the celebrities featured in the ”Famous” music video.

The celebrities: Donald Trump, Caitlyn Jenner, Rihanna, Bill Cosby, Taylor Swift, Ray J, Chris Brown, Kanye West and his wife Kim Kardashian were featured in the music video as (very realistic) wax figurines.

If we delve deeper into the matter then we are able to identify three major legal issues : copyright infringement, defamation and the right to publicity.

Nicholas Rozansky explains that it is not the use of the celebrities themselves that would lead to a suit but rather West’s depiction of these figures. What this means is that if West (or even the wax sculptor that was under his direction) used a pre-existing photograph or video to create the sleeping wax figures, then the owner of that copyright may have a lawsuit against Mr. West.

For it to be considered a defamation suit then it would need to be slander per se. Slander is defined in the California Civil Code section 46 as a “false and unprivileged publication…by radio or any mechanical or other means which…imputes someone to a want of chastity…or (w)hich, by natural consequence, causes actual damage”. This means that the celebrities would simply need to show that the image West is associating to them is depicting them in an unchaste way/act.

Finally in terms of a right to publicity case this would mean that the right of an individual to control the commercial use of their name, image, likeness, among other aspects of one’s identity.

Although this is all speculation, it will be interesting to see the direction in which the case takes.


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