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This music copyright lawsuit over “dembow” really needs to be thrown out. Now.

Back in 1989, Jamaican duo Steely & Clevie released a single entitled “Fish Market.” It appeared as a B-side of a 7-inch single released on their own Kingston-based indie label Steely & Clevie Records. So yeah, it’s pretty obscure. Take a listen.

You’ll probably recognize that beat. It’s called a “dembow” (also sometimes spelled as “Dem Bow”) rhythm and is now found throughout Latin American pop including in songs by Daddy Yankee (the “Despacito” Guy) and Bad Bunny, one of the top artists in the world right now.

Steely & Clevie are in the midst of suing both Daddy Yankee and Bad Bunny for copyright infringement and plagiarism. They claim that both artists illegally interpolated the rhythm/beat of “Fish Market” and want money. The lawsuit goes on to name 55 other artists who have used the dembow rhythm, including Justin Bieber.

In total, they claim that more than 100 artists and labels have used “their” dembow beat in more than 1,600 songs. Bad Bunny is responsible for 77 of them.

This, of course, is insane. Beats and rhythms have been historically un-copyrightable. They were, the most fundamental building block of music composition would inaccessible to everyone. The Latin American genre know as reggaton would be completely wiped out.

This is the position of Bad Bunny’s lawyers who have filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. Another legal firm, representing Bieber, Pitbull, Diplo, Ricky Martin, Jason Derulo, Enrique Iglesias and more than 80 other artists has done the same.

If Steely & Cleevie’s lawyers do win their case, we’re screwed.

It’s insane. This lawsuit should have never, ever been filed. The outcome will extremely important to the world of music.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38308 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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