“Suit and Tie”…For the Wrong Reasons

Justin Timberlake has had a plethora of success over the last few years. Timberlake has starred in movies, hosted SNL, and has even made us laugh alongside Jimmy Fallon. In lieu of all his successes, his most successful “entertainment venture” arguably came by the release of his latest album “The 20/20 Experience” back in 2013. Going 7 years without releasing any new music; “20/20” was a two-part album, which featured hits such as “Pusher Love Girl”, “Take Back The Night”, and of course “Suit and Tie”. These pop-songs brought a contemporary feel to big band/blues, and made listeners bop their heads and sing-a-long time and time again. Audiences poured into stadiums around the world to watch Timberlake and his crew “take back the night”, as they put on a spectacle. Dawned in Tom Ford Tuxedoes, Timberlake and company knew how to put on a great show. Although, despite all the success of this latest album, Timberlake has recently garnered attention for his 2nd acclaimed album “Future Sex/Love Sounds”.

Last week, a copyright suit was brought by the sister of former disco artist Perry Kibble. The lawsuit claims the hook, rhythm, harmony and melody in Timberlake’s hit song “Damn Girl”, were copied from Kibble’s song “A New Day is Here At Last.” Other defendants named in the suit are Will Adams, better known as Will.i.am, Sony Music Entertainment and several other music publishers and distributors. According to the complaint, Kibble issued the copyright to the musical compistion in 1969, after JC Davis recorded it. Kibble passed away in 1999, and his ownership of the copyright in the song transferred to his sister Janis McQuinton. McQuinton assigned her ownership to her corporation PK Music Performance in December 2015, and in Janurary the company registered a renewal copyright to the work.

McQuinton makes the claim that the music in “Damn Girl” is strikingly similar to “A New Day is Here at Last.” She claims that a substantial part of the drum, conga drum, organ, bass guitar, electric guitar, and saxophone parts in “Damn Girl”, were all copied from “A New Day Is Here At Last”. She is seeking statutory and actual damages for not only the sound recording but also to a DVD containing the hit and live performances from Timberlake’s “FutureSex/LoveShow” concert tour.

Copyright infringement is the use of works protected by copyright law without permission, infringing certain exclusive rights granted to the copyright holder, such as the right to reproduce, distribute, display or perform the protected work, or to make derivative works. When determining a copyright infringement suit, Judges take into consideration 4 factors under a “Fair Use” Test.

The four factors judges consider are:

  • the purpose and character of your use
  • the nature of the copyrighted work
  • the amount and substantiality of the portion taken, and
  • the effect of the use upon the potential market.

It is not certain as to whether or not McQuinton will prevail, as similarity in a song alone can be tough grounds to win on a copyright infringement suit. McQuinton argues that the instrumentals are the most similar parts to the songs, and not the lyrics, so it will be a challenge to argue that the amount and substance of “Damn Girl” was taken from Kibble’s song. In addition, it will be difficult for her to argue that “Damn Girl” had any sort of effect upon her potential market (aka disco listeners from the 70’s).

This lawsuit comes as a bit of a surprise, as Timberlake’s “Damn Girl” was released back in 2006. Since then, Timberlake has gone on to conquer almost every aspect of the entertainment industry, and is essentially infamous. It’s puzzling that this lawsuit was not brought sooner if what McQuinton alleges is actually true. Regardless, Timberlake will most likely have to dawn a “Suit and Tie” for the courtroom instead of the stage.


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