Chris Brown sued for alleged copyright infringement by UK music publisher

Another week, yet another high-profile copyright infringement lawsuit over a hit song in the US.

Superstar singer Chris Brown has been sued for copyright infringement over his track Privacy, released in March 2017 and taken from his album Heartbreak on a Full Moon.

A UK-based music publishing company called Greensleeves Publishing Ltd, which also has a US HQ in New York, alleges that Brown ripped off a 1997 dancehall track called Tight Up Skirt to create his track.

Sony Music Entertainment is also named in the seven page legal document, which was filed in New York on July 2.

The suit against Brown comes just a week after Atlanta rapper Kilo Ali, a.k.a Andrell Rodgers, sued US rap star NLE Choppa, alleging that the vocal chorus from his own song, Love in Ya Mouth, was ripped off to create the melody in NLE Choppa’s Make Em Say.

Tight Up Skirt, performed by Jamaican Dancehall star Red Rat, was released in 1997, first in the UK and later around the world on the album Oh No… It’s Red Rat. 

Red Rat, who is not mentioned in the legal document filed by Greensleeves, said in 2017 following the release of Privacy that he was “getting many calls left and right from many people asking me about my thoughts regarding [Chris Brown] sampling Tight Up Skirt, and all I can say is, ‘Give God all the glory.”

According to Greensleeves’ claim, which you can read in full here,  Chris Brown “took the core musical feature” of the track and “used it prominently” in Privacy “without permission”.

Greensleeves says in the suit that it owns and administers exclusive music publishing rights in the United States to the copyright to Tight Up Skirt.

Red Rat’s Tight Up Skirt and Chris Brown’s Privacy, the video for which has over 213 million views on YouTube, “share a similar primary identifying feature” explains the lawsuit.

A melody containing the lyrics ‘Hey you girl inna di tight upskirt’ and ‘Hey you girl without a tight up skirt’, respectively (referred to in the suit as Phrase A), begins each chorus to both songs (see below).

In Greensleeves’ lawsuit, the company argues that in Tight Up Skirt, Phrase A “is the hook and dominates the chorus sections, occurring a total of 18 times throughout the song. This includes both the initial lyrics which occur a total of six times and the lyric variations”.

Chris Brown’s Privacy, the publisher adds, “does not” contain a hook phrase and therefore Phrase A “takes on greater significance, due to its prominent position as the first phrase in each chorus section”.

Adds the lawsuit: “Phrase A in the infringing work is also very distinctive in the song because it contrasts with and musically deviates from a material preceding and following it musically, lyrically, and vocally.

“Further, the instrumental accompaniment is significantly altered for the first two iterations of Phrase A to specify the full accompaniment including prominent percussion stops, abruptly here, reduced the musical activity to only the similar vocal phrase with a very sparse instrumental accompaniment.”

The rhythms in Phrase A are also “identical in both songs with corresponding identical, or similar, lyrics in the following sequence in both songs”, adds Greensleeves’ claim, and illustrated below.

Another reason Greensleeves believes that Chris Brown’s track Privacy is similar to 1997’s Tight Up Skirt is because “both the vocal timbre and language dialect change when the above phrase is performed (the dialect evoking distinctive Jamaican pronunciation, inflection and cadence)”.

“This new timbre and dialect are substantially similar to the vocal timbre and dialect in Tight Up Skirt and deviate dramatically from the surrounding material in the infringing work,” adds Greensleeves.

Listen for yourself below:

Greensleeves argues that Chris Brown and Sony Music Entertainment’s “exploitation of Tight Up Skirt has occurred without authorisation or permission and constitutes infringement of the copyright in the musical composition”.

The company is asking for “a preliminary and permanent injunction enjoining defendants and all persons acting in concert with defendants from manufacturing, reproducing, distributing, adapting, displaying, advertising, promoting offering for sale and selling or performing any materials that are substantially similar to the copyrighted work”.

Greensleeves is also requesting actual damages and profits “in an amount in excess of $1.5m to be determined at trial, plus interest”.

This case follows other high-profile copyright lawsuits filed against superstar artists in recent years.

In May, Childish Gambino was sued for copyright infringement over This is America.

In April, 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