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Johnson v. Hill (7th Cir. June 1, 2011)

Johnson v. Hill (7th Cir. June 1, 2011)

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Published by Andrew Pequignot
7th Cir. affirms judgment for Cypress Hill in music sampling case.
7th Cir. affirms judgment for Cypress Hill in music sampling case.

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Published by: Andrew Pequignot on Jun 01, 2011
Copyright:Public Domain

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06/01/2011

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In the
United States Court of Appeals
 For the Seventh Circuit
 
Nos. 08-3810, 09-2213 & 10-1733S
YL
 J
OHNSON
 ,
 
also known asS
YLVESTER
T
HOMPSON
 ,
Plaintiff-Appellant,v.
C
YPRESS
H
ILL
 ,
 
et al.,
Defendants-Appellees.
 
Appeals from the United States District Courtfor the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division.Nos. 1:03-cv-09452 & 1:08-cv-07264
 — 
Charles R. Norgle, Sr.
 ,
 Judge.
 
A
RGUED
F
EBRUARY
10,
 
2011
 — 
D
ECIDED
 J
UNE
1,
 
2011
 Before M
ANION
 ,
 
E
VANS
 ,
 
and
 
H
AMILTON
 ,
Circuit Judges
.E
VANS
 ,
Circuit Judge
. Syl Johnson, an American bluesand soul singer
 — 
well known in the 1960s and 1970sfor his exploration of African-American identity andsocial problems
 — 
wrote a song entitled, “Is It Because
 
2Nos. 08-3810, 09-2213 & 10-1733
The song is available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=
1
zKfZYgHm8So (last visited May 17, 2011).The members of Cypress Hill
 — 
Lawrence Muggerud, Senen
2
Reyes, and Louis Freese
 — 
are also named defendants. We willrefer to the defendants collectively as Cypress Hill.The track in question is titled, “Interlude” on some copies of
3
“Black Sunday” and “Lock Down” on others. The tracks areidentical. “Interlude” is available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aADH4148iQo (last visited May 17, 2011).
I’m Black” (the “Song”). Twenty-five years later,
1
Cypress Hill, an extremely popular and successful hip-
2
hop group, released the album, “Black Sunday.” One ofthe tracks on “Black Sunday,” titled “Interlude,” plays
3
a section of Johnson’s Song.In 2003, Johnson filed suit against Cypress Hill allegingcopyright infringement of the Song. Over four yearsinto litigation, the district judge granted Cypress Hill’smotion for summary judgment after concluding that Johnson failed to prove he held a valid copyright in theSong. Johnson now appeals.In 1968, Johnson, working with Glenn Watts and Jimmy Jones, wrote “Is It Because I’m Black.” In 1969,Twinight Records released a recorded version of theSong as a 45-RPM. That same year, the Song reachednumber 11 on the R&B charts. In 1972, Johnson re-recorded the Song. The 1972 recording was neverreleased in the United States. In 1997, Johnsonapplied for and received United States copyright reg-istration SRU-360-891 for a sound recording compilation.
 
Nos. 08-3810, 09-2213 & 10-17333
In March 2004, Cypress Hill did reach an agreement with
4
Sunlight Records, Inc. (owned by Peter Wright, the co-ownerof Twinight Records) which claimed that it was the holder ofall rights in the Song. The deal for the license was roughly$25,000 and released Cypress Hill and its licensees from allpast, present, and future claims related to Cypress Hill’s useof the Song in “Interlude.A “sound recording” copyright protects rights in a specific
5
recording of a musical work. A sound recording copyright is(continued...)
 Johnson believed that he included the 1972 recording ofthe Song in his submission, but he did not. Therefore, theSong was not covered by a valid federal copyright. In June 2003, Watts filed a Form PA composition copy-right registration on the words and music of the Song,listing Johnson and Jones as co-authors. The CopyrightOffice assigned it registration number PA 1-192-702.In 1993, Cypress Hill released its “Black Sunday” album.The song in question in this case, “Interlude,” is a 77-second song in the middle of the 14-track album. “Inter-lude” includes 2.5 seconds of Johnson’s Song “looped”for the entire 77 seconds. Cypress Hill admits that itfailed to obtain permission from Johnson to use the Song.
4
In 2003, Johnson
 — 
after listening to “Interlude” anddeciding that his Song was used
 — 
filed a
 pro se
com-plaint against Cypress Hill alleging copyright infringe-ment and a state law fraud claim. Four monthslater, after obtaining counsel, Johnson filed an amendedcomplaint asserting a single claim, infringement ofthe sound recording copyright SRU-360-891, asking for
5

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