There are a several things in music that cannot be copyrighted because they form the basic building blocks of songs. They are:
- A song title.
- A guitar riff
- A beat
Let’s focus on number 3 for a second. Beats are rhythmic figures form the groove of a song and have so far been immune from any copyright infringement laws. If beats and drum breaks were suddenly fair game, then thousands of people would be sued over the use of Clyde Stubblefield’s “Funky Drummer” break and the ubiquitous Amen Break, the most important sample in the history of electronic music.
But in the super-litigious post-“Blurred Lines” world where ambulance-chasing copyright lawyers are looking for anyone to sue over the slightest similarity (cf. insane allegations again Katy Perry and Lady Gaga), it was just a matter of time when we’d have an issue involving a beat. That time has arrived.
Drake, his collaborators, and a couple of record labels have been sued for allegedly using beats created by producer Sam Scully without his permission.
There are Drake two songs involved: “In My Feelings” and “Nice for What” from his 2018 album, Scorpion. Scully says that both tracks feature a beat lifted from his 2000 song entitled “Roll Call.” Scully (real name: Samuel Nicholas III) believes that the figure he calls “The Beat” was taken in toto without permission.
He’s now asking for three things: (1) That the courts invalidate the copyrights on both songs; (2) profits from the two songs be turned over to him; and (3) compensatory damages.
In all of human history, beats have never, ever been copyrightable. Should Scully/Nicholas win this one–the lawsuit has been filed in Louisiana where juries can be malleable–it will be a disaster for all of music.
More background here.