Judge grants summary judgment to musical duo Macklemore and Ryan Lewis in copyright suit

By Charmaine Little | May 13, 2019

NEW ORLEANS – International music duo Macklemore and Ryan Lewis prevailed in a summary judgment motion after a New Orleans musician accused Lewis of stealing his music.

U.S. District Judge Martin L.C. Feldman ruled on the case in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana on April 23.

Paul Batiste, a jazz musician in the Big Easy d/b/a Artang Publishing LLC, filed suit against Lewis and Macklemore, whose real name is Ben Haggerty, claiming that Lewis stole from his original works for the duo's Grammy award-winning hits “Thrift Shop” (winner of Best Rap Song in 2014) and “Can’t Hold Us” (nominated for Best Music Video). Batiste said Macklemore and Lewis used his melodies, chords, hooks and beats in a number of their songs. 

Songwriters Andrew Joslyn and Allen Stone were also named in the suit. After lots of back and forth, the defendants filed a motion for summary judgment. At the same time, Batiste filed for leave to supplement to try to resubmit an expert report of musicologist Archie Milton that was previously tossed after the defendants accused Batiste of secretly writing the report himself. While the defendants’ motion was granted, Batiste’s motion was denied.

While Batiste claimed that his “supplemented declaration” proves the music software the defendants allegedly used to sample and copy his music, the defendants challenged that and said, “Batiste has neither established his qualifications to serve as an expert witness, nor demonstrated good cause to justify amending this court’s scheduling order,” according to the opinion. The court concurred. 

Batiste’s report was not reliable and, in fact, was described as self-serving. He failed to prove the report was rooted in actual facts or data but instead only had waveform and fragmented comparisons. 

The sound recording expert for the defendants’ side, Paul Geluso, countered Batiste’s expert report. 

According to the lawsuit, “it is possible for two random songs to have musical events that, in a spectrogram comparison, can be seen to visually align to a degree that [the plaintiff] would declare indisputably ‘digitally sampled’ when no such digital sampling occurred.’”

The court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment as Batiste failed to prove Macklemore and Lewis actually committed copyright infringement against him. It was Batiste’s burden to prove there was a “striking similarity” between his music and the defendants’ five songs he said they copied. 

“Because he has failed to produce for this record disputed factual similarities between his songs and those of the defendants that ‘are sufficiently unique or complex so as to preclude all explanations other than copying,’ the defendants said Batiste’s argument failed," Feldman wrote.

Batiste also didn’t have any evidence on record that would prove his case. He could only provide circumstantial evidence and suggested they have sampled music from other artists as well. Still, Batiste failed to prove the defendants actually sampled his music.

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