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Greensleeves settles with Chris Brown over alleged song theft

By | Published on Friday 9 September 2022

Chris Brown

UK-based music firm Greensleeves has settled a legal battle with Chris Brown and his label over the allegations that the musician ripped off an earlier song that it publishes on his 2017 single ‘Privacy’.

In a lawsuit filed with the courts in New York in July 2021, Greensleeves said that ‘Privacy’ lifted a line from 1997 dancehall track ‘Tight Up Skirt’, which was recorded by Red Rat. “In creating the infringing work”, the lawsuit stated, “[Brown] took the core musical feature of ‘Tight Up Skirt’ and used it prominently in the infringing work without permission”.

As for what that “core musical feature” was, the lawsuit went on: “‘Tight Up Skirt’ and the infringing work share a similar primary identifying feature. In both songs, this is a melody containing the lyrics ‘hey your girl inna di tight upskirt’ and ‘hey you girl without a tight upskirt’, respectively”.

“This similar melody begins each chorus section in both songs”, it added. “This shared structural placement is significant and adds to the prominence of the similar melody in both songs”.

That both tracks shared that element had been noted many times prior to the lawsuit being filed, though Red Rat himself – who wasn’t involved in the lawsuit – seemed pretty relaxed about it all.

He told the Jamaica Observer in 2017: “Chris Brown, who is one of the biggest pop stars globally, feeling the need to sample a piece of ‘Tight Up Skirt’, only shows how much he loves and respects Red Rat and [the] catalogue. It also shows how much of a fan he is to the music”.

Meanwhile, when the original track’s producer, Andrew Bradford, was asked about Greensleeves lawsuit, he questioned whether the publisher even controlled the rights in the earlier song.

Traditionally in the Jamaican music industry, the country’s studio producers also basically acted as the labels signing up the rights in the music they produced. Although they did then often license those rights to the likes of VP Records and Greensleeves, which ultimately merged.

Which is how Greensleeves would have ended up publishing ‘Tight Up Skirt’. Although Bradford said that he was going to check his old contracts to see if it still had the rights. Because, had Greensleeves got the $1.5 million or more in damages it was pushing for in its lawsuit, then presumably Bradford – and Red Rat too – would have liked to share in that cash.

For their part, Brown’s legal reps argued that the elements shared by ‘Privacy’ and ‘Tight Up Skirt’ were not protected by copyright in isolation, because they were short and commonplace, and that – anyway – Brown’s use of those elements constituted fair use under US copyright law.

We’ll never know if those arguments would have stood up in court, because – according to Dancehallmag – the two sides in the dispute sent a letter to the court earlier this week telling the judge that they “have reached a settlement in principle, which fully resolves the matter”.

Specifics of that settlement are not known. Neither party in the lawsuit – nor Red Rat or Bradford – have as yet commented on the deal.