In a Los Angeles courtroom, a federal judge recently raised concerns over a far-reaching copyright infringement lawsuit that has the potential to impact the entire reggaeton music genre. The case, which involves over a hundred artists, including Bad Bunny, Daddy Yankee, and others like Karol G, Pitbull, Anitta, Drake, has been filed by the Jamaican producers Steely & Clevie.
The lawsuit revolves around the claim that Steely & Clevie, renowned Jamaican music producers, through their 1989 hit “Fish Market,” introduced the distinctive dembow rhythm that has become a hallmark of reggaeton music. The duo alleges that this rhythm has been used without credit or compensation in approximately 1,800 songs by more than 160 defendants.
U.S. District Judge Andre Birotte Jr. expressed concerns about the potential impact of this lawsuit on the creativity of the entire genre. He questioned whether this legal battle might stifle creativity in reggae, reggaeton, Latin music, hip-hop, and beyond, given the widespread influence of the dembow rhythm.
While the lead lawyer for Steely & Clevie argued that many defendants had no issue clearing samples from other artists, Bad Bunny’s attorney contended that his client’s works did not contain direct samples of Steely & Clevie’s sound recordings, focusing instead on composition copyrights.
Bad Bunny’s lawyer proposed reducing the case by dismissing claims related to the composition of “Fish Market” rather than its sound recording used in samples. He argued that without elements such as instrument choice and timbre, only the drum rhythm remained, which he claimed was not protectable.
The lawyers on both sides debated whether a drum rhythm could be protected under copyright law, the originality of “Fish Market,” and why the plaintiffs waited until 2020 to register their work. Additionally, the question of “prior art,” or music existing before the composition of “Fish Market,” was raised.
Ultimately, Judge Birotte took the matter under submission, acknowledging the complexity of the case and the arguments presented from both sides. The outcome of this lawsuit could have significant implications for the reggaeton genre and the broader music industry, as it delves into the intricate intersections of copyright, creativity, and musical innovation