A New Zealand judge said Eminem’s lyrics, “You own it, you better never let it go,” turned out to be prophetic after ruling a political party breached copyright by using a song similar to Eminem’s Lose Yourself in its 2014 campaign ads.
On Wednesday, High Court Judge Helen Cull ordered the conservative National Party to pay the Detroit rapper’s publisher, Eight Mile Style, NZ$600,000 (about C$527,000) plus interest from June 28, 2014. The ad for National Party candidate Steven Joyce aired over 100 times.
Cull described the track in question, titled Eminem-esque, as “distinctive,” and not only due to its melodic content but also its arrangement, “particularly the guitar riff, the timbre, the strong hypnotic rhythm and the recurring violin instrumentation and the piano figure.” She also said, “It is no coincidence that Lose Yourself received the 2003 Academy Award for Best Original Song.”
The judge based the amount of the award on a hypothetical licence fee that the party might have paid to use the song. She noted that Eight Mile Style rarely grants permission to use Lose Yourself in advertising.
The court did not grant additional damages, ruling that the National Party did not act reckless by using the song, having sought out professional, commercial and media advice.
National Party President Peter Goodfellow said in a statement he was disappointed with the ruling. He said the party purchased the music in good faith from an Australia-based library that had bought it from a U.S. supplier.
The National Party purchased “Eminem-esque” from the company Beatbox, which secured a licence from music library Labrador. The party is now considering legal action against the suppliers and licensors.
The case earlier featured moments such as lawyers listening studiously to profanity-laced rap and Eminem collaborator Jeff Bass flying in from Detroit to play the song’s distinctive opening riff, which he wrote.
“We think it’s a very strong judgment, and a cautionary tale for people who make or use sound-alikes around the world,” said Adam Simpson, a Sydney-based lawyer who represented Eminem publisher Eight Mile Style.
Simpson continued: “We hope that we see more original music in advertising as a result, and that writers get properly acknowledged and rewarded for their hard work.”
Eight Mile Style publisher Joel Martin said he’d been infuriated during the trial by the defence’s absurd contention that Lose Yourself wasn’t original because it used the same chords as other songs.
“They could have said anything but question its originality,” he said.
Martin said he hadn’t yet discussed the ruling with Eminem, but was glad the rapper hadn’t been needed to travel to New Zealand “to watch the paint dry in the courtroom.”
The National Party was ridiculed back in 2014 when the case was first filed and lawmaker Joyce defended the use of the song, an action he said was “pretty legal.”
“Pretty legal? That’s not a concept that exists. That’s like being sort-of dead,” TV show host John Oliver later joked on Last Week Tonight.
The ruling comes at a difficult time for the conservative party, which just lost the 2017 election to a coalition headed by the liberal Labour Party.
—With files from the Associated Press