Verzuz Recap: Gucci Mane v. Jeezy

By | Hip Hop, Music Business | No Comments

We are living in historic times. No, I’m not talking about the presidential election or even the pandemic. I’m referring to the experience of watching music’s greatest legends go head-to-head in what have become epic showdowns – The Battle of Soul between Gladys Knight and Patti LaBelle; the Battle for the “Dirty South” between Ludacris and Nelly; the Battle for The Boy when Brandy and Monica went toe-to-toe; and just last night, in the Battle for Atlanta when Gucci Mane and Jeezy went head-to-head. Like so many others, I tuned in early with anticipation, eyeing the empty regal-like chairs in the infamous Magic City. Would they or wouldn’t they? And then Gucci kicked things off with “Round 1.”

The beef between Gucci and Jeezy has been a slow burn spanning 15 years. It’s a story that we are all very familiar with, captivating the headlines with the likes of a murder trial, public disses, club brawls, and bounties. For those who weren’t paying attention in the early aughts, the real battle began in 2005 over who owned the rights to their first collaboration, “Icy.” So when Gucci dropped “Icy” before Jeezy could release it on his debut album, the implications were huge.

Jeezy, from then on, would have no rights to how “Icy” could and would be used. He lost all control over a song that he thought was his own. These kinds of disputes can run the gamut, from who’s credited on the song and therefore is entitled to royalties to who owns the master recordings, or “masters,” as they are more commonly known. Owning your own masters is the holy grail of the music business.

In the battle for fairness and economic justice, it’s not about which hit made it to Number 1 (“Icy” made it to number 5), but rather who owns the rights and who can cash in. And yet so few artists actually own their own masters. Oftentimes, it’s the record label that owns the masters and not the artists. These arrangements are built into contracts from the very beginning, which can be hard to pass up for new and up-and-coming artists. Some artists may be listed as the songwriter, which is a step in the right direction, as it affords artists the publishing rights to their songs. But it’s a small step.

In 2008, a fire broke out in the backlot of Universal Studios, where Universal Music Group’s music vault was housed. That day, the music world lost some of the most valuable masters from music greats, such as Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and so many more. As the NYT noted, record companies are in the storage business. Most masters are stowed away only to collect dust and money for rich record companies. While artists and their family estates have to hope that record companies will carefully guard their legacies.

But back to the epic battle (event Stacey Abrams made a cameo!). At one contentious moment (Round 16), Gucci takes a swipe at Jeezy’s demurred look, boasting that his outfit cost “ten bands.” Jeezy responds that he “owns over half of Atlanta,” referring to his various real estate investments. But in Round 21, Gucci hit back playing “I Get The Bag” rapping “A trapper, baby/I rap but I own all my masters, baby”. And at the end of the day, as Prince famously said “If you don’t own your masters, your master owns you.”

Congratulations Joe! Now it’s time to continue the work!

By | Advocacy | No Comments

For four years, people of color have been ignored, at best, by the federal government. More often than that, we’ve been outright antagonized. So Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’s sweeping victory last week was a relief.

At Take Creative Control, we are working to reform antiquated systems, like intellectual property law, that were designed to protect the biggest (and, yes, whitest) players. Rebalancing IP law means considering the perspective of creators of color; fairly rewarding our work; and understanding that just because you can’t drop millions on a team of lawyers and lobbyists does not result in fewer protections. For the past four years, these perspectives have been entirely missing from every level of the administration. Read More

How a Battle Between Tech Giants Threatens Creators Most of All

By | Copywrite, Creators, Internet, Legal, Start Ups

On October 7, 2020, the Supreme Court will hear a pivotal copyright battle between Google and Oracle. The outcome is all the more uncertain following the sad and unsettling news of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing.

At the heart of the debate, the court must answer two key questions (1) do copyright protections include software interfaces, specifically application programming interfaces or APIs? and (2) is Google’s use of APIs to create a new program considered fair use?

How does this impact artists and other creators? Their decision will ultimately be about when, how, and how much creators can build on the work of others. This case, yet again, hinges on what is considered copyrightable and what is open source.

The basics
This case centers around APIs – application programming interfaces. APIs are essentially lines of code that allow one computer program to communicate with another. For example, if you want to check the weather on your iPhone, you open your weather application. Apple is not a weather company, so they need to communicate with a weather reporting system and pull the data using an API, which enables them to display the weather on your iPhone in a more user-friendly manner. Same goes for travel aggregators like Kayak, Google Flights, and Orbitz. For years, APIs have been considered open source, thereby allowing anyone to use them in creation of new applications, computer programs, and electronic devices.

However, in 2010, Oracle filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Google, claiming Google copied Oracle’s Java API for the purpose of Google’s Android operating system, essentially arguing that APIs are not open source. A district court agreed with Google’s fair use argument, stating “So long as the specific code used to implement a method is different, anyone is free under the Copyright Act to write his or her own code to carry out exactly the same function or specification of any methods used in the Java API.” Oracle appealed to a federal court, which reversed the district court decision, concluding that the APIs in question were copyrightable. This decision created shockwaves in the creative community. Google appealed to the Supreme Court, and here we are today.

So what’s at stake?
If the Supreme Court rules in favor of Google, then business will continue as usual. However, if they rule in favor of Oracle, there are important factors to consider. Here’s how this ruling could impact both creators and consumers.

The impact on the creative community

Legal scholars, program developers, and computer scientists have all warned that a ruling in favor of Oracle may create a chilling effect, reducing innovation and handcuffing the creative community. If APIs are deemed copyrightable, new innovators, start-ups, and third-parties will be at a great disadvantage, having to acquire the appropriate licenses, which can be an insurmountable barrier for anyone new on scene. Interoperability plays a central role for new start-ups, as it enables the little guy to reach large markets, otherwise not accessible to them, levelling the playing field. This interoperability also offers consumers more choices when deciding to try a new innovation or app. As one computer scientist put it, “[t]reating software interfaces as copyrightable would be like requiring car manufacturers to invent a substitute for the steering wheel.” Furthermore, companies and copyright owners may now have an incentive to seek out litigation to prevent the use of their APIs without the proper licenses, thereby perpetuating a chilling effect.

The impact on consumers

The ease of interoperability has greatly benefited consumers. While consumers are not necessarily learning new code, they are learning how different softwares and applications work. They invest time and money in applications, devices, and other computer software to carry out day-to-day activities. Making APIs copyrightable limits communication between the many devices they use at work and home. This limitation will inevitably limit some consumer choices, locking them into one set of devices or programs, which hinders competition and competitive pricing.

The long and short of it is that consumers, start-ups and second-comers all benefit from the use of APIs. Creators use APIs in both the distribution and production of their creative content. A decision to limit that ability paves the way for a harder, and possibly more expensive, path for artists, innovatives and creatives.

Black Expression, Black Protests, and Black Lives

By | BlackLivesMatter, Free Speech, Internet, Policy, Protest

A Look at What Black People Have to Lose At the Hands of the EARN IT Act

We are living history: a pandemic that has disproportionately killed Black people, the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, and the racial reckoning across this country that soon followed. All this in the final months of a presidential election. There has never been a more important time to fight for free speech online than now. Read More

If you created it, you should probably trademark it — even quarantine parties

By | Intellectual Property, Legal, Trademark

In early March, at the very start of quarantine, D-Nice reminded us all of the power of music. What originally began as a way to connect with his friends (first Bun-B and Black Thought) and listen to music over Instagram live, grew into a series of historic, hours-long DJ sets for a crowd that has included Jamie Foxx, Timbaland, Rihanna, and Michelle Obama. Club Quarantine has become a much-needed escape from what’s going on around us; they are pure nostalgia, fun, and authenticity. It wasn’t long until D-Nice was approached by record companies and fast food chains to partner up with Club Quarantine, but he rejected their offers in hopes of building something bigger and new with Club Quarantine. And so he took the step of filing for a trademark for “Club Quarantine” and “Homeschool” in hopes of using the brand even after Coronavirus passes. Read More