Weezy Samples Your Song: Sue Or Celebrate?

Dan Gibson | September 5, 2008 1:00 am
In this week’s LA Weekly, former Idolator guest Jeff Weiss looks at the lawsuit surrounding an unauthorized sample on one of Lil Wayne’s most popular mixtape tracks, “I Feel Like Dying.” Can an artist sue over something that was never really sold?

“I Feel Like Dying” was one of the tracks from Lil Wayne’s seemingly endless output that was notable enough to appear on a number of year-end best-song lists, including the one compiled by Maura and Jess last December. However, the Jim Jonsin-produced track sampled “Once” by Karma-Ann Swanapoel without clearing it. If the track had been released in a fully commercial sense, it would seem like the case would be open and shut. But what if no one wants to take credit for the song being released?

In a recent interview with the Orlando Weekly, Jonsin admitted that the song wasn’t yet intended to get to Wayne.

“The guy that works with me sent it out to Cash Money,” Jonsin told the Orlando Weekly. “He wasn’t supposed to do that. I was going to get [Karma] to play guitar over it and sing the chorus. [Wayne] loved it and went ahead and did it. It caused a lot of drama.”

Wayne intended this druggy dirge for Carter III but claims the song was stolen from him. Empire declared that it landed in his in-box from a guy on Wayne’s tour bus. While Wayne hasn’t publicly denounced Empire for leaking his album, his L.A.-based attorney, Ron Sweeney, says the case is a textbook example of greedy music publishers attempting to milk money out of a multiplatinum artist.

“Thanks to all the MySpace and YouTube views the song got, [Swanepoel] got a ton of exposure that she wouldn’t have otherwise had,” argues Sweeney. “Of course, her publishers would deserve something if Wayne was making money off the song, but he most certainly isn’t. And the people in the record business wonder why their industry’s in the toilet?” Sweeney says that Wayne received the track from the producer, Jonsin, who had signed an agreement confirming that he owned the rights. Says Sweeney, “It sounds like even the publishers have acknowledged the producer is the culprit.”

Oddly, Karma herself seems oddly silent on this issue (her MySpace page doesn’t seem to mention the sample), so is this an issue of the publishers–who released the track on their own label this May, well beyond the buzz’s expiration date–feeling like they missed out on a marketing opportunity? There were apparent negotiations to clear the sample so the track could be included on Tha Carter III, but terms couldn’t be reached. While I’m sure that whatever amount of money could have been made directly from the success of the most popular album of the year would have nice in itself, the amount of publicity that would be attainable from having “the voice of ‘I Feel Like Dying’!” would seem to worth quite a bit more. (Ask Dido.)

As is frequently argued around these parts, artists deserve to cash in on their own work. But it seems like the existing copyright laws have giant holes that are large enough to be jumped through by mixtape DJs giving away work to advance their own careers, and Karma’s people seem to be chasing the wrong revenue trail.

Karma Policed [LA Weekly]