Kendrick Lamar’s hit song “Rigamortus” may be DOA because he is accused of blatantly copying the music from “The Thorn.” Composer, musician, and recording artist Eric S. Reed composed “The Thorn” in 2009 for Willie Jones III’s 2010 recording The Next Phase (WJ3). Reed is the owner of U.S. Copyright Registration No. Pau 3-682-265 in the composition and Jones is the owner of U.S. Copyright Registration No. SR0721860 in the sound recording.
Plaintiffs deny granting Kendrick Lamar permission to use “The Thorn” in any manner, including the numerous versions and remixes which also incorporate Plaintiffs’ original sound recordings.
“The Thorn” is not merely a part of “Rigamortus” or even the heart of “Rigamortus”; it is “Rigamortus”. The distinctive and catchy refrain from “The Thorn” sound recording, sped up a bit, repeats as a continuous loop throughout the entire “Rigamortus” song while Lamar raps over it. The clever melodic triplets, infectious rhythm, and commanding horns from “The Thorn” are copied to “Rigamortus” directly from Jones’ sound recording. Defendants did not play any instruments or contribute any original musical performance to the “Rigamortus” sound recording. The instrumental element of “Rigamortus” and the composition that it embodies are owned and authored entirely by Jones and Reed respectively.
Listen and let your ears be the judge:
Eric Reed and Willie Jones’ The Thorn:
Kendrick Lamar’s Rigamortus:
To establish copyright infringement, Plaintiffs must prove (1) ownership of a valid copyright, and (2) copying by defendants of protectable elements of the work. Three Boys Music Corp. v. Bolton, 212 F.3d 477, 481 (9th Cir. 2000). Here, in the age of let’s record and upload everything we do to YouTube, Plaintiffs allege that co-defendant William T. Brown’s YouTube video demonstrates how he “created” Rigamortus, showing his computer monitor where the words “Willie Jones III The Thorn” are clearly visible. It is rare to catch a copyright infringer red-handed, but this might be one of those rare instances.
Plaintiffs seek at least $1,000,000 in damages and full disgorgement of Defendants’ profits from the infringement. In addition to seeking an injunction, Plaintiffs demand payment of all their attorneys’ fees and costs.
The case is Eric S. Reed, et al. v. Kendrick Lamar Duckworth, et al., CV14-5064 (N.D. Ill. 2014).