Back in 2003, rapper 50 Cent created one of the most iconic songs of the 21st century. With a hook of “Go shawty, it’s your birthday,” the song “In Da Club” propelled 50 Cent’s debut album to number 1 on the Billboard 200 chart. If not for Eminem’s “Lose Yourself,” 50 Cent’s hit likely would have won the 2004 Grammy for Best Rap Song. Interestingly, Eminem’s label, Shady Records, produced and released 50 Cent’s album. Fast-forward to 2015, when another rapper, Rick Ross, used a sample of 50 Cent’s “In Da Club” track on his “Renzel Remixes” release. 50 Cent sued Rick Ross for copyright infringement in a $2 million lawsuit. This week, 50 Cent lost the copyright rap battle against Rick Ross, as the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the case.
Standing to Sue and the Copyright Assignment Problem
To bring a lawsuit in court, a party must have standing to sue. While some might think this is a given, standing can be difficult to prove in copyright cases. Particularly within the music industry, artists commonly assign copyright interests to a record company. In return, the record company produces an artist’s album or song and releases the work to the public. Unfortunately, and particularly for newer artists, a negotiation imbalance exists between the parties. As such, artists often sign away their rights to huge songs for relatively small amount of money, simply as a means to produce their art.
Rap Battle: Copyright Edition
In this situation, 50 Cent did exactly that – he assigned the rights to “In Da Club” to Eminem’s Shady Records. In addition, 50 Cent provided Shady Records with a non-exclusive right to use his likeness in promoting the works on the record. As such, while 50 Cent created “In Da Club,” and while the public associates the track with 50 Cent, the rapper doesn’t own a copyright interest in the song. While the court admitted Rick Ross likely committed copyright infringement, only the copyright owner can sue. 50 Cent will have to try to convince Shady Records to file a new lawsuit against Rick Ross; otherwise, 50 Cent has no choice but to accept his copyright rap battle loss to his rival.