Childish Gambino sued for copyright infringement over This is America

Ibra Ake/RCA
Childish Gambino

Donald Glover aka Childish Gambino has been sued for alleged copyright infringement over his 2018 hit single, This is America.

Florida-based Emelike Nwosuocha (aka rapper Kidd Wes) claims that elements of his song Made in America were copied by Gambino to create This is America.

Released in 2018, This is America won Song and Record of the Year at the 2019 Grammy Awards.

At the core of Nwosuocha’s claim, filed in New York yesterday (May 6), is that there are allegedly “substantial similarities” between his song Made in America and Gambino’s This is America.

“Specifically,” adds the filing, “the substantial similarities between both songs include, but are not limited to, nearly-identical unique rhythmic, lyrical, and thematic compositional and performance content contained in the chorus – or “hook” – sections that are the centerpieces of both songs”.

Also named in suit are Young Thug (Jefferey Lamar Williams), composer and producer Ludwig Emil Tomas Göransson, Kobalt Music, RCA Records, Sony Music Entertainment, Roc Nation Publishing, Warner Music Group and others.

Nwosuocha says that he wrote his song and uploaded it to SoundCloud on September 11, 2016 and uploaded the music video to YouTube on about November 9, 2016.

He also says he also registered it with the US Copyright Office on May 24, 2017 ahead of its release as the lead single for his album entitled Eleven: The Junior Senior Year.

The filing, which you can read in full here, claims that “the distinctive flow”  used by Glover in This is America, which the claim adds is the “the musical centerpiece” of the track, “is unmistakably substantially similar, if not practically identical, to the distinct and unique flow that was employed by Nwosuocha” in his own song Made in America.

In addition to what Nwosuocha alleges to be the “substantially similar” and “unique flow” used in both songs, he also claims that  “the lyrical theme, content, and structure of the identically-performed choruses” are also “glaringly similar”.

Nwosuocha’s complaint continues to suggest that the similarities between he two tracks “are manifestly audible to listening lay persons of the general public”.

They are also, he says, “qualifiable and quantifiable from a scientific perspective” and he recruited Musicologist Dr. Brent Swanson to analyze the two tracks.

“There are distinct similarities in melodic contour, rhythmic triplet flow in each performance, and the lines ‘Made in America’ and ‘This is America’ line-up nearly perfectly in time despite being different tempos.”

Dr. Brent Swanson, Musicologist 

Swanson is quoted in the filing as writing that both videos and the songs’ lyrics explore “themes of gun violence, and oppression of African-Americans and People of Color by police, the political establishment, conservative organizations (in particular the NRA and the GOP), White nationalism (Charleston shooting), and racist structures” in the United States”.

He adds: “There are distinct similarities in melodic contour, rhythmic triplet flow in each performance, and the lines ‘Made in America’ and ‘This is America’ line-up nearly perfectly in time despite being different tempos.

“They also both use rhythmic utterances in their performances. It is authors’ opinion that these similarities are likely not coincidences.”

Nwosuocha claims that he “has suffered actual damages including lost profits, lost opportunities, and loss of goodwill” and that Glover and the other defendants have “profited in the amount of hundreds of millions of dollars”.

He says he”s entitled to damages including “the substantial profits” from the track and is demanding a trial by jury.

This case is the latest in a series of high-profile copyright lawsuits filed against superstar artists in recent years.

Last month, BTS and Big Hit (HYBE) were sued for copyright infringement over K-Pop reality TV show I-Land.

In August last year Kendrick Lamar was sued for copyright infringement by a musician called Terrance Hayes, over Lamar’s hit single Loyalty, released in 2017 and taken from his fourth album, Damn.

That same month, a copyright infringement lawsuit filed against Lizzo (aka Melissa Jefferson) by three songwriters – Justin and Jeremiah Raisen and Justin ‘Yves’ Rothman – was dismissed by a judge in California.

In July 2020, pop-punk band Yellowcard dropped their $15m copyright lawsuit against Juice Wrld over the late artist’s hit single, Lucid Dreams.

In June 2020, Travis Scott was accused of copyright infringement in a lawsuit filed by Blurred Lines lawyer Richard Busch over his US No.1 single, Highest in the Room.

Meanwhile, in March 2020, a federal court in California overturned the verdict in the Dark Horse copyright infringement suit against Katy Perry – which would have seen her, Capitol Records and her collaborators liable for $2.8 million.

Perry’s win followed Led Zeppelin’s victory over their long-running copyright battle over their classic ’70s song Stairway to Heaven has resulted in a huge victory for the British rock band, as well as their publishing and record label partner, Warner Music Group.Music Business Worldwide