The Black Eyed Peas and Daddy Yankee are facing a lawsuit over allegations that they illegally sampled from classic 90s song “Scatman (Ski-Ba-Bop-Ba-Dop-Bop)” — a case that claims the artists “simply lied” in order to “avoid paying a larger licensing fee.”

In a lawsuit filed March 8, the company that owns the rights to “Scatman” accuse (William Adams), Daddy Yankee (Luis Ayala Rodríguez) and others of “clear-cut copyright infringement” over their use of Scatman John’s ear-catching 1995 track in their own 2022 song “Bailar Contigo.”

The current owners of “Scatman” (Iceberg Records AS) claim that they granted a “limited license” allowing the superstars to use the underlying written music, but explicitly warned that a license to actually sample from the sound recording  would cost more. The case claims the artists agreed to those terms, but that their “assurances turned out to be pretense.”

“After comparing the tracks, it is apparent that the derivative work and the song are so strikingly similar that defendants have used the sound recording of the song, rather than just the composition, as agreed,” attorneys for Iceberg write in their lawsuit. “Defendants simply lied to plaintiff about not using the sound recording in order to avoid paying a larger licensing fee.”

The new case highlights the distinction between sampling (the use of an actual recording of an artist’s performance) and interpolation (the use of the same music but re-performed by the new artists). Sampling licenses require paying the owners of both the master and publishing copyrights to a given song, and thus typically cost more than interpolation licenses.

In the case of “Scatman” and “Bailar Contigo,” Iceberg claims it inked an interpolation deal with the Black Eyed Peas and Daddy Yankee in October 2022 in return for 75 percent stake in the publishing rights to the new song and a 5 percent income stream from the new recording. But Iceberg, which also owns the master to the song, says the contract “made clear” that the agreement was not a sampling deal.

“Rights to the recording of the original work (so called master rights) are not subject of this approval and require separate licensing,” the 2022 agreement purportedly read.

But when the song was released in November 2022, Iceberg’s lawyers say it obviously included a sample, not just an interpolation: “Although it appears that defendants attempted to manipulate the sound recording slightly to hide their infringement, the work remains so strikingly similar to the song that it could not have been created without using the song’s sound recording.”

Reps for both the Black Eyed Peas and Daddy Yankee did not immediately return requests for comment on the allegations. In addition to naming as a defendant, the lawsuit also named Black Eyed Peas members (Allen Pineda Lindo) and Taboo (Jaime Luis Gomez); it did not name not Fergie, who left the group in 2018.

Faced with only being able to secure an interpolation deal and not an outright sample clearance, artists will sometimes re-record a song in ways that sound very similar to the original recording. But that practice can ruffle feathers with the owners of masters, and has led to disputes in the past.

Last year, Rick Astley filed a high-profile lawsuit against Yung Gravy over the rapper’s breakout 2022 hit that heavily borrowed from the singer’s iconic “Never Gonna Give You Up,” alleging that the new track — an interpolation that sounded a whole lot like an outright sample — broke the law by impersonating Astley’s voice. In that case, Gravy cleared the underlying music (which Astley does not own) but failed to secure a license to sample the master.

The lawsuit, premised on Astley’s likeness rights, raised big questions about sound-alike songs and sampling, but the dispute was settled on confidential terms in September.

Bill Donahue
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