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Jay Z and Roc Nation to be Sued Over Song Rights

“After being accused by Jay Z of stealing master recordings of seminal work, Chauncey Mahan has responded with a provocative lawsuit against the hip-hop star and Roc Nation.”

Billboard posted an article this week describing what could turn out to be a provocative lawsuit.  I, as an engineer myself, personally feel that Mahan is in the wrong, but this lawsuit brings up some important points that need to be addressed by the lawless recording industry.  To be a songwriter is a very specific job of composing lyrics, melodies, and music.  The jobs he describes in his 84 page complaint are CLEARLY engineering tasks that border on a production role.  Producers and engineers alike are fee for service jobs where unless the producer is ALSO a composer, doesn’t have any claim to songwriting royalties.  I personally wasn’t in the room, so it’s hard to gauge what really went down, but unless he’s claiming responsibility for writing lyrics, melodies, or music, I don’t know what he’s talking about.  I know plenty of engineers who have gotten songwriting credit for contributing to the writing, and I know a bunch who have been slighted in that respect. The issue at hand here for me is the fact that as independent contractors, engineer and production jobs aren’t clearly supervised by superiors and often job roles are blurred, and those contractors can easily be taken advantage of.

“As the sound engineer tells the story in his lawsuit, Jay Z and Roc Nation orchestrated a “sting operation” this past April at a commercial storage facility in Los Angeles, and after cataloging an inventory of copyrighted materials, Jay Z’s reps called the Los Angeles Police Department to seize Mahan’s chattel and accuse him of being in possession of stolen property. Jay Z is then said to have filed three separate criminal complaints Mahan. The engineer wasn’t arrested, though, and reportedly the LAPD’s criminal investigation has closed.

That hasn’t settled the matter, though, because Mahan has now retained an attorney named James Freeman, whose recent notable work included a 219-page, $500 million lawsuit against Lionsgate Entertainment for allegedly going too far with “Twilight” rights and a 429-page, $250 million lawsuit against producers of “American Idol” for alleged discrimination against former singing contestants. Freeman has a knack for larding complaints with arguable irrelevancies, mixing criminal and civil law, and making bold but difficult claims.

Here, in Mahan’s 84-page complaint, beyond such side tales as the birth of hip-hop from DJ Kool Herc to Afrika Bambaataa, lies the challenging insistence that Mahan, as a creative sound engineer, should be considered at very least to be a joint author of Jay Z songs.

To make such a claim stick, Mahan tries to show two things.

First, Mahan attempts to demonstrate that he played an integral role in the authorship of the work.

For 45 songs, Mahan states that he “was in charge of setting up or scheduling the recording sessions and studio time, tracking the prototype beat of the so-called ‘producer,’ pre-mixing the beat, sample editing, choosing the recording methodology and setting up the microphones, vocal recording, vocal coaching, vocal compositing, multi-track mixing, song arranging, pitch shifting, additional editing, and pre-mastering a final version through use of a digital audio workstation such as Pro Tools.”

“There were other joint collaborators in the process, of course,” the lawsuit notes, “but they often came and went quickly. Petitioner’s role was to be physically present in the studio for the entire process…”‘

The focus on Mahan’s purported role could throw the judge towards an analysis of creativity in the collaborative realm of song creation. If he’s lucky, he might get the treatment afforded Innocence of Muslims actress Cindy Lee Garcia, whom a 9th Circuit judge last February declared could assert a copyright interest in her own performance.”

You can check out the full article here.