Someone is NOT in Formation: Deceased YouTube star Messy Mya’s estate brings a $20 million copyright lawsuit against Beyoncé
In the lawsuit filed just last week, Messy Mya’s sister, Angel Barre (the person at the forefront of the lawsuit and the sole heir to Messy Mya’s estate) claims, “Beyoncé used the ‘voice, performance and words from his copyrighted works to create the tone, mood, setting and location of the New Orleans-themed “Formation” video and audio recordings…’” without permission or giving recognition.
Barre is seeking $20 million in damages and royalties. Additionally, this lawsuit is being brought exactly one year after the release of the formation video and just before (literally like days before) the statute of limitations was due to expired.
Ok, with that out of the way let me say a few things (**disclaimer: this is all just my opinion and my thinking):
The 12 words used (all from one video) only appear on the “Formation” video, from which, if I recall correctly, she made no money from (celebs now-a-days really only make money from touring — streaming royalties are chump change, literally, and album sales are a thing of the past). We all know she made millions from the “Lemonade” album and visual album, however Messy Mya’s audio clips do not appear anywhere on the album or the visual album.
2. Under copyright infringement law, one of the main things a court will look at to determine whether or not there is infringement between two works is whether the alleged copy is “substantially similar” to the original. Courts traditionally say a copy is “substantially similar” to the original when the “alleged copy comes so near to the original as to give the audience the idea created by the original.” Roberta Kwall, Copyright and the Moral Right: Is an American Marriage Possible?, 38 Vanderbilt L. Rev. 1 (1985). That basically means, a work is “substantially similar” when so much of the original is copied, its obvious and often hard to distinguish the two. Has the fundamental essence of a work been duplicated by another? Under cases like Harper House and Frybarger, courts have ruled “there can be no [copyright] infringement unless the words are virtually identical.”
In Arnstein v. Porter (154 F.2d 464 (2d Cir. 1946)) the court stated, “copying as a prong of substantial similarity…is a factual issue of whether the defendant (the copier) used the plaintiff’s (original) work as a starting point for his own.” So, to make a long lengthy and difficult legal issue as simple as possible, one of the most important things looked at to determine if there is infringement (there are other things but I won’t go down that legal rabbit hole) is the copied portion in relation to the whole work. Out of the whole work, how much was copied?
Messy Mya’s videos were over 5 minutes long in their entirety. To use 5 second audio clips of a 5+ minute video is a very small part in relation to the whole video. Did Beyonce use the audio as a part of her work? Yes she did, but by no means was it a starting point for her work. If that were the case, it would have appeared on the actual album — as I stated, it didn’t. Nor did she use a large enough amount of the video to make his videos and work “substantially similar” as to make it hard to tell them apart. Under copyright law this is called the“de minimis” doctrine…where courts require more than a “de minimis” (a small/minimum) amount of the overall work to have been copied for there to be infringement. Davis v. The Gap, Inc., 246 F.3d 152, 172 (2d Cir. 2001).
3. Lastly, the fact Messy Mya’s videos were posted all over youtube should factor in. I think you expose yourself to someone adding your video to things, editing your video, taking samples of your video, downloading it illegally, converting it into MP3’s, using it period etc. I’m not 100% sure if that could be used as almost a “fair use” defense or maybe if its on youtube it’s free to be used by anyone…(I’ve written enough at this point, you can easily research the fair use defense).
Do I think Beyonce should give credit for the audio clip?
Yes, if she has not already, however, I just don’t feel the Barre’s have a strong case here. I could be wrong, but as always, I’m interest to see how this plays out. I’ll keep y’all posted. In the meantime, thank you for your eyes and ears!