Music mogul 50 Cent is more accustomed to rap battles as opposed to legal battles. However, he still came out on top in a recent copyright infringement lawsuit.
Shadrach Winstead, author of the book The Preacher’s Son – But the Streets Turned Me into a Gangster, filed the lawsuit against 50 Cent, whose legal name is Curtis Jackson, and his record label. He alleged that Jackson’s Before I Self-Destruct album and film of the same name derived their contents from, and infringed the copyright of, his book.
As detailed in Winstead’s complaint, his book included these short phrases: “Get the dope, cut this dope,” “let’s keep it popping,” and “I said the strong takes from the weak, but the smart takes from everybody.” In a scene from Jackson’s film, a song playing in the background includes these lyrics: “Get the dope, cut the dope, get the dope. Let’s get it popping. The strong sit down, but the weak work for me.”
Despite the similarities, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals ultimately concluded that 50 Cent had not infringed Winstead’s book. As the court explained, “Not all copying is copyright infringement.” Rather, the court must determine whether the allegedly infringing work is similar because it appropriates the unique expressions of the original work, “or merely because it contains elements that would be expected when two works express the same idea or explore the same theme.”
In this case, the court concluded that the words and phrases did not sustain a claim of copyright infringement. “They are either common in general or common with respect to hip hop culture, and do not enjoy copyright protection. The average person reading or listening to these phrases in the context of an overall story or song would not regard them as unique and protectable,” the opinion states. It further added that words and short phrases do not enjoy copyright protection.
With respect to the works overall, the court concluded that they differed as to character, plot, mood, and sequence of events. “Winstead’s protagonist embarks on a life of crime at a very young age, but is redeemed by the death of his beloved father. Jackson’s protagonist turns to crime when he is much older and only after his mother is murdered. He winds up dead at a young age, unredeemed,” the court noted.