Jun 6, 2024 2 min read

Travis Scott lawyers say uncleared sample is alright

Travis Scott has asked a court to dismiss a lawsuit over an allegedly uncleared sample because the lyric “alright, alright, alright” - is not substantial enough to be protected by copyright

Travis Scott lawyers say uncleared sample is alright

Lawyers working for Travis Scott have hit back at a sample lawsuit filed against the rapper earlier this year, arguing that nobody can own a copyright in the word “alright”, even if you say it three times in close succession.

“The only alleged copyright infringement here is the alleged copying of the word ‘alright’”, Scott’s attorneys write in response to allegations their client used a sample without licence. And the word ‘alright’, they add, and “the short phrase ‘alright, alright, alright’ lack even the minimal creativity required for copyright protection”.

Why? Well because the “lyrics are too short” and because “they are commonplace, or stock, expressions”. Which seems like common sense. However, Scott is accused of sampling both the lyrics and the recording of those lyrics, which adds complexity, because the lyrics and the recording both need licensing and may be subject to different rules. 

The lawsuit filed by Dion Norman and Derrick Ordogne claims that Scott sampled the 1992 DJ Jimi track ‘Bitches Reply’ not once but twice - first on 2018’s ‘Stargazing’ on his ‘Astroworld’ album, and second on 2023’s ‘Til Further Notice’ on ‘Utopia’.

According to their lawsuit, Norman and Ordogne “own the copyright in the sound recording, musical composition and lyrics” of ‘Bitches Reply’, a claim that seems to be backed up by the US Copyright Office’s records. The track, they note, has been sampled a lot over the years, by artists including Beyonce, Nelly, Kid Cudi, Cardi B and Lil Wayne. 

However, when Scott sampled and interpolated the track, neither he nor his record company Sony Music got a licence. Although they did allegedly get a “sample clearance vendor” to contact Norman and Ordogne to discuss clearing the sample once ‘Utopia’ had been released. Which, the original lawsuit argued, shows that they knew a licence was, in fact, required. 

Scott’s team filed a motion to have the case dismissed earlier this week. Among other things, his lawyers raise issues with Norman Ordogne’s copyright registrations and argue that, with ‘Stargazing’, the statute of limitations for making a copyright claim has expired. 

Beyond those fairly pedestrian legal technicalities, the key argument in the motion for dismissal relates to the sampled element being too short and generic to be eligible for copyright protection. 

To qualify for copyright protection, a work must have “originality of expression”. With samples, a key question is whether any one sample has enough substance, in isolation, to meet the originality requirement. When it comes to the composition and lyrics of a song, it is generally acknowledged that a few beats or a few words are not sufficient. The basis for this is that allowing one person to control the use of a few beats or few words would be too restrictive on everyone else’s freedom of expression. 

However, with sound recordings things are slightly different. Under European law, even a few seconds of a recording can have copyright protection. This is not deemed to restrict anyone’s freedom of expression because another creator could simply recreate the recording. This means that, in practical terms, under European copyright systems, Scott may not need a licence for the publishing rights, but probably would for the recording. 

However, US law has been somewhat inconsistent when it comes to how much substance there needs to be for a snippet of a recording to be protected by copyright. 

Either way, Scott’s lawyers are adamant that Norman and Ordogne do not have any copyrights to enforce in this particular case. “The Copyright Act does not protect ‘stock’ expressions”, their legal filing continues. Because “the allegedly infringed phrase ‘Alright, Alright, Alright’ is too commonplace to be copyrightable”, they add, the copyright claim “should be dismissed”.

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