Billboard reports that on Tuesday, a Louisiana federal judge denied Beyonce’s motion to dismiss a claim for copyright infringement filed against the singer for her use of vocal samples of a New Orleans spoken word artist on her hit “Formation.”
While Beyonce herself has been laying low following the birth of her twins, her name and likeness have been in the news, with a wax figure being unveiled at popular tourist attraction Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum, subsequently removed after receiving widespread ridicule online, and replaced after “improvements” were made.
The late Messy Mya — born Anthony Barre — can be heard saying “What happened at the New Orleans,” “B*tch, I’m back by popular demand” and “Oh yeah baby. I like that,” on “Formation,” and his estate, led by his sister Angel Barre, claims the the samples infringe upon two works of her brother’s performance art, “A 27 Piece Huh?” and “Booking the Hoes from New Wildings.”
Beyonce’s legal team previously filed a motion to dismiss the copyright claim on fair use grounds, but US District Judge Nannette Jolivette Brown found that Barre has made a case that Beyonce’s use of the clips was not transformative — in other words, Beyonce and her engineer did not change the sample enough to claim that that it was significantly different from its original form. Although the clips were short, it was a “qualitatively significant” use, meaning that they actually impact the recognizability of the song. In fact, the track prominently opens with two of the vocal clips, completely and clearly audible, without any digital reprocessing.
Brown wrote a 66-page decision explaining, “Plaintiffs have plausibly alleged in their complaint that Defendants did not change or alter the ‘expressive content or message’ of Anthony Barré’s Youtube videos, but rather used unmodified clips without adding anything new. [T]he Court concludes at this stage of litigation that ‘the copyright law’s goal of promoting the Progress of Science and useful Arts’ would not be better served by allowing Defendants’ use of Plaintiffs’ copyrighted material without authorization or compensation than by preventing it.”
Beyonce’s legal team better get in formation, because they certainly have work to do now.