Dr. Luke Sued for Copyright Infringement on a Jessie J Track

by | PopCrush
Dr. Luke
Paul A. Hebert, Getty Images

Songwriter and producer Dr. Luke is facing another lawsuit, but this time it’s for allegedly copying one of the most famous and widely-used percussive beats in music history.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, New Old Music Group is suing Dr. Luke for the “breakbeat” in the Jessie J hit “Price Tag,” claiming it was directly lifted from the 1975 song “Zimba Ku.”

The group’s president, Lenny Lee Goldsmith, wrote “Zimba Ku,” which was then recorded by the band Black Heat. The song’s main drum beat has gone on to become one of the most recognizable in music, with artists such as N.W.A., Kool G. Rap and more making use of it.

Court documents allege the similarities between Dr. Luke’s “Price Tag” and “Zimba Ku” come in the form of (via Scribd) “sixteen consecutive 16th notes on the hi-hat cymbal, a bass drum pattern consisting of two 8th notes on the first beat of the measure, followed by three syncopated notes on beats 2 and 3, snare drum attacks on beats 2 and 4 and a ‘buzz’ on the snare drum at the end of the measure.”

Dr. Luke’s attorneys have since argued that use of the individual aspects from the drum pattern from “Zimba Ku” is so widespread, there’s no definitive proof of copyright infringement.

Judge Ronnie Abrams, however, takes issue with this defense. He said, “The court disagrees. While many of the individual elements of Zimba Ku may be commonplace, Defendants have not shown that, as a matter of law, the combination of those elements in the drum part is so common as to preclude any reasonable inference of copying.”

Dr. Luke attempted to make his case by pointing out other songs written before “Zimba Ku,” that also had a similar breakbeat: Thelma Houston’s “Me and Bobby McGee” and the Jackson 5’s “ABC” and “I Will Find A Way.”

But Abrams disagrees. He said, “This is not to say that Plaintiff has proved that the similarities between ‘Zimba Ku’s and ‘Price Tag’s drum parts are so probative of copying that independent creation was not possible. To the contrary, a jury may well find that even though it has not been presented with prior art embodying precisely the combination of elements at issue, the similarities between Zimba Ku and Price Tag nevertheless do not sufficiently raise an inference of copying. At this point in the litigation, however, the Court cannot conclude as a matter of law that no reasonable juror could infer, on the current record, that the creators of ‘Price Tag’ copied ‘Zimba Ku.’”

If the case winds up going to trial, a jury will make the ultimate decision as to whether “Price Tag” is guilty of copyright infringement or not.

You can listen to both songs below, and let us know if there’s a case to made.

“Zimba Ku”

“Price Tag”

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