Dr. Luke is the latest big name to be taken to court over similarities in music, as his beat for Jessie J's "Price Tag" has been compared to another copyrighted song, much like how Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams ended up on the wrong side of a $7.2 million payout to the Marvin Gaye estate earlier this year.
The lawsuit comes on behalf of the New Old Music Group. The president of that company, Lenny Lee Goldsmith, wrote the song "Zimba Ku" for the band Black Heat during 1975. The part of the song in question is a breakbeat from the song that, while not directly sampled by Luke in the offending song, is remarkably similar. The clip will resonate with many music fans as well, as the breakbeat has been used in hip-hop tracks from N.W.A. and Kool G Rap, and was essentially recreated for the Jackson 5's "ABC" and Thelma Houston's version of "Me and Bobby McGee." or at least that's what Dr. Luke argues. A court found otherwise.
"The Court disagrees," writes Judge Ronnie Abrams—apparently a percussionist, based on his later terminology—in the ruling. "While many of the individual elements of 'Zimba Ku' may be commonplace, Defendants have not shown that, as a matter of law, the combination of those elements in the drum part is so common as to preclude any reasonable inference of copying."
The judge waved off the Jackson 5 and Houston examples, noting the lack of "ghost notes" (a drag on a drum) in the former and the fact that "Price Tag" stuck to the same tempo as "Zimba Ku."
This ruling doesn't convey guilt on Luke; that needs to be determined by a grand jury, much like in the "Blurred Lines" case. However, Abrams concluded that it's reasonable to be tried.
Luke's legal team won't be too happy about this, as producers have been arguing for years that, since hip-hop DJs and other engineers had been using such samples for years, current performers should have the same right. A guilty charge brought against Dr. Luke in this case may mean you won't be hearing the "Amen Break" again anytime soon.