Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Nietzsche, Kanye and Copyright

"It's got a good beat and you can dance to it"
German philosopher Frederick Nietzsche, hip-hop artist Kanye West, and pop singer Kelly Clarkson.  An odd combination, but all played a part in recent copyright infringement decision by the United States 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago.

The essential lesson: you can't claim copyright for something that essentially is in the public domain.

George W. Bush's favorite rapper Kanye West (noted for his Katrina telethon ad lib "George Bush hates black people") was sued by rapper/song writer Vincent Peters (known to his peeps as Vincent P).  Mr. P claimed that West stole his 2007 hit song "Stronger"  from P's less successful 2006 song. 

P is a self-described "up-and-coming hip hop artist and songwriter."  He wrote his song "Stronger" in 2006.  Trying to jump start his career, P met with Kanye West's producer John Monopoly (you can't make these names up - well, I guess you can, but I didn't).  A few months later, West released his song "Stronger," (click here for video) which was so successful it was honored as rap song of the year in Germany.  

As the court noted, P "was not a fan" and sued for copyright violation. 

The fight was over use of 19th Century philosopher Frederick Nietzsche's observation:  "That which does not kill us makes us stronger"  from his 1888 tome, Twilight of the Idols

Whether West or P or even Mr. Monopoly have ever read Twilight of the Idols is anybody's guess.  But according to all involved, it inspired these memorable lyrics: 

Kanye's song of the year "Stronger":
  N-N-N-now th-th-that don’t kill me 
Can only make me stronger
I need you to hurry up now
Cause I can’t wait much longer

I know I got to be right now
Cause I can’t get much wronger

P's less successful "Stronger":

What don’t kill me make me stronger
The more I blow up the more you wronger 

You copied my CD you can feel my hunger 
The wait is over couldn’t wait no longer 

The Court rejected P's claim of copyright infringement.  The Court found that Nietzsche's statement has become ubiquitous, and thus P can not lay claim to its use. Relying upon a Billboard Top 50 Chart used as an exhibit, the court noted that the phrase has been used in numerous songs, including pop singer Kelly Clarkson's recent hit Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You) - click here for video.

The Court also rejected P's claim that Kanye's rhythms were stolen from P's song.  Judge Diane West wrote for the Court:

 "Just as a photographer cannot claim copyright in the use of a particular aperture and exposure setting on a given lens, no poet can claim copyright protection in the form of a sonnet or a limerick." 

For the 7th Circuit's decision in Peters v. West, click HERE.

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