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Kanye West sued over sermon sample on Donda

By | Published on Wednesday 4 May 2022

Kanye West

Kanye West has been sued by a Texas-based pastor who claims that a track on the rapper’s ‘Donda’ album samples one of his sermons without licence. That copyright infringement, the pastor’s lawsuit stresses, has resulted in a “considerable influx of ill-gotten financial gains and other benefits” for West and his label.

Presumably God approves when West includes religious samples within his music, because – you know – it’s free promo, and we all know how much God loves free promo. But then again, we also know how annoying it is when people think “free promo” is a justification for “no royalties”.

God himself probably isn’t so bothered about the royalty payments, but some members of God’s team would definitely prefer the cheque to the marketing boost. That includes Bishop David Paul Moten, whose sermon is sampled in the ‘Donda’ track ‘Come To Life’. He’s definitely not happy with just the free exposure.

“‘Come To Life’ is approximately five minutes and ten seconds in length”, says the pastor’s lawsuit. “Approximately one minute and ten seconds of this sound recording is sampled directly from plaintiff’s sermon and appears to run on a loop underscoring the pre-chorus and chorus throughout the song in question. Consequently [at least] 20% of the entire sound recording ‘Come To Life’ is comprised of unauthorised, unlicensed samples of the sermon”.

“Defendants wilfully and without the permission or consent of plaintiff extensively sampled portions of the sermon”, the lawsuit goes on. “Over the span of several years, defendants have demonstrated an alarming pattern and practice of wilfully and egregiously sampling sound recordings of others without consent or permission”.

That latter point is possibly referencing the last time a religious sample got West in trouble. The rapper was previously sued over a short segment that appears at the start of ‘Ultralight Beam’ on his ‘Life Of Pablo’ album. That sample – which was taken from an Instagram post – features a child reciting a prayer. The child’s guardians claimed that West had not got formal approval to use that religious snippet either.

That case was ultimately settled in late 2020. As for this latest religious sample dispute, Moten reckons that: “Defendants have seen a considerable influx of ill-gotten financial gains and other benefits as a direct consequence of their wrongful use of plaintiff’s sound recording and production, and other violations of plaintiff’s rights”.

“Consequently”, his lawsuit adds, “defendants therefore hold money which in equity and good conscience belongs to the plaintiff. Plaintiff has also suffered substantial damages because of defendants’ wrongful acts and omissions … based on the foregoing, plaintiff requests an award of the disgorged profits of the defendants, compensatory, consequential and incidental damages in an amount to be determined by the trier of fact, plus costs, interest and expenses”.

Given that God’s approval is not generally acknowledged as grounds for using copyright material without licence – and assuming the facts as described by Moten are correct, I mean, a man of God wouldn’t lie, would he? – then West will likely need to settle this dispute too, presumably by putting a fistful of dollars in the collection plate.

West is yet to respond.