Paul Batiste, from the well-known Batiste family of New Orleans, filed a lawsuit accusing Mackelmore & Ryan Lewis of stealing from two of his songs for their hit, “Thrift Shop.” According to the documents filed by Batiste, the Macklemore & Lewis hit borrowed from his songs “Hip Jazz,” and “World of Blues,” both of which were released years before “Thrift Shop.”

This isn’t Batiste’s first claim against a popular musician, he also filed a $100 million lawsuit against rappers in 2013. In that suit he alleged that artists including T-Pain, Rick Ross, DJ Khaled, and Nelly all borrowed from his music.

The music industry has long been in court over copyright claims, with successful acts such as The Beatles, Led Zepplin, Johnny Cash, and Madonna all dealing with claims of infringement at one time or another throughout their careers. 

Recently, copyright infringement got a new look when the family of Marvin Gaye filed suit against Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams after the release of “Blurred Lines,” for stealing what essentially could be considered the “vibe” from a 1977 Gaye song, “Got to Give It Up.”  

There was some concern in the music industry that this new way of looking at copyright, which didn’t require actual lyric or specific melodies to be copied might pave the way for a new rash of lawsuits. That hasn’t happened thus far, according to Josh Kaplan of Troglia Kaplan Attorneys and Propelr Music Management.

“I would say that the number of cases has remained steady but I have not seen a huge increase or spike in law suits,” Kaplan told the Louisiana Record.  “The fear was that the Blurred Lines decision would lead to many similar ‘feel or vibe’ type of claims.  This unique finding definitely left the door open to similar type of cases but the unique nature of the case (the defendants fully admitting that they were going for a similar vibe as Gaye) is going to be hard to match for most plaintiffs. “

Batiste’s claims about the Macklemore & Ryan Lewis may be hard to understand for those without extensive musical experience, which means that at trial a host of experts will have to be called in to testify. Of course, Kaplan points out that in every trial both the plaintiffs and defendants often have expert testimony, and usually those experts come to completely opposite conclusions.

“Musicologists will be brought in to study the sounds and patterns of an allegedly infringing work.  These are experts who are able to read music and recognize patterns in notes, tone, emphasis etc,” explained Kaplan. “The problem, just like in any other area of the law, is that you can always find an expert to take your side as these are paid experts.  So while one musicologist will state that there is no infringement, you will likely be able to find one who will find the opposite way. “

Regardless of the outcome of the courts, copyright infringement suits have little effect on fans of the music, at least financially. 

 According to Kaplan, “most labels are heavily insured and then they will be protected via indemnification language.” That means that even if artists have to wait longer to get paid as the label fights out an infringement suit in court, the fans are shouldering the financial burden.

It will be up to the court to decide now whether or not Macklemore & Ryan Lewis owe their success, even if in part, to Batiste.

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