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Eminem’s political song-theft case reaches court

By | Published on Tuesday 2 May 2017


When Eminem sued New Zealand’s governing National Party in 2014 alleging that it had used one of his songs in an election ad without permission, you probably thought this one would be quietly settled out of court.

We did. Would a political party really want a public spat with a popular rapper in which it was accused of infringing copyright? Well, as it turns out, yes, it would. Though Joel Martin, representing Eminem’s music publishing companies, seemed as surprised as anyone yesterday that he was now standing outside the New Zealand court where his firm’s copyright dispute with the country’s governing political party was being heard.

As previously reported, the National Party has always argued that it properly licensed the music that appeared in its 2014 television ad, a soundtrack that sounded rather like Eminem’s ‘Lose Yourself’.

From the start the political group said that it had secured a licence from an Australian agency that it turn paid the rights owners via the collective licensing system. This initially seemed unlikely for a sync in an advert – which usually begins with a direct deal between advertiser and rights owner – though it transpires this is basically a production music sound-alike case.

Which is to say, the National Party licensed a piece of music called ‘Eminem-Esque’ for its ad, which the rapper’s people claim is basically a rip off of ‘Lose Yourself’. And, say legal reps for Slim Shady’s Eight Mile Style and Martin Affiliated, the politicians were aware of that fact when they decided to use the track after it tested well with focus groups.

Presenting in court yesterday email correspondence between the National Party and an agent for the organisation, lawyer Garry Williams quotes the latter as writing about the 2014 ad: “I guess the question we’re asking, if everyone thinks it’s Eminem, and it’s listed as ‘Eminem-Esque’, how can we be confident that Eminem doesn’t say we’re ripping him off?”

That email, Williams argued, made it “utterly clear” that the National Party knew it was using Eminem’s music without his permission, even if it was technically licensing the specific track from a third party.

When Eminem sued in 2014, the National Party accused the rapper of playing politics, because he was unhappy being associated with a conservative political group; noting that others had used the same ‘Eminem-Esque’ track it had licensed in other videos without the rapper going legal.

However, the aforementioned Martin said yesterday this was a straight copyright infringement case, and nothing to do with the politics of the National Party. Indeed, he added, Eminem and his American business associates know little about New Zealand politics, but the rapper would never license his music to a political organisation, whatever their leanings.

Of course, artists getting annoyed when politicians use their music is quite common, and was a regular occurrence during Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. When political types use music at rallies and such like there is rarely anything artists can do, because such usage is covered by the blanket licences offered by the collecting societies.

Though if a politician syncs a track to an advert, that’s different. Which is the case here of course. Though, as noted, really this is a sound-alike production music case, something more commonly associated with the ad industry than the political world.