Supreme Court Lets Producer Seek Damages Over Sample

Sherman Nealy filed copyright suit over Flo Rida track
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 9, 2024 6:40 PM CDT
Supreme Court Lets Producer Seek Damages Over Sample
Flo Rida performs during the 2023 iHeartRadio Jingle Ball at the Kia Forum on Dec. 1 in Inglewood, Calif.   (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

The Supreme Court sided with a music producer in a copyright case Thursday, allowing him to seek more than a decade's worth of damages over a sample used in a hit Flo Rida song. The 6-3 decision came in a case filed by Sherman Nealy, who was suing over music used in the 2008 song "In the Ayer," by the rapper. It also was featured on TV shows like So You Think You Can Dance. Nealy's suit says he didn't know his former collaborator had signed a deal with a record company while he was in prison that allowed the sampling of the song Jam the Box. He sued in 2018 for damages going back to the song's release, the AP reports.

Copyright law says suits must be filed within three years of the violation, or the point when it's discovered. The record company, Warner Chappell, argued that means Nealy would only be entitled to three years' worth of royalties at most. The question of how far back damages can go has split appeals courts, and it's one that industry groups like the Recording Industry Association of America called on the Supreme Court to decide. The opinion handed down Thursday was written by Justice Elena Kagan and joined by Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Ketanji Brown Jackson, John Roberts, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett.

"There is no time limit on monetary recovery. So a copyright owner possessing a timely claim is entitled to damages for infringement, no matter when the infringement occurred," Kagan wrote. An attorney for Nealy, Wes Earnhardt, said the opinion gives clarity on an important issue, per the AP. Dissenting Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote that the majority sidestepped the important question: whether Nealy's claim was valid to begin with, or whether copyright holders should have to show some kind of fraud in order to sue over older violations. The dissenters said the suit should have been dismissed.

(More copyright infringement stories.)

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