Beyoncé is pushing for a quick end to a $20 million lawsuit by the estate of late rapper and YouTuber Messy Mya, claiming her hit song “Formation” was recorded with snippets of his YouTube video without credit or permission.
The singer, along with Sony Music Entertainment, WB Music Corp. and a host of codefendants affiliated with Beyoncé’s work, argued to a New Orleans court on Friday that the copyright claims in general are “grossly overstated.”
The estate of Messy Mya, a New Orleans-based rapper whose real name is Anthony Barré, filed the lawsuit in February claiming the fashion-forward “Formation” music video, as well as subsequent live performances of the song, used clips from two videos featuring the rapper and his videos posted on YouTube.
The estate also claimed that the recording of “Formation” was composed with a brief sample of the YouTube audio, but Beyoncé said in her motion to dismiss the allegations that only the music video and certain live performances used the audio at issue.
As for the use of the rapper’s audio in these instances, Beyoncé said Pretty Bird Productions, which represents “Formation” video director Melina Matsoukas, actually licensed the YouTube videos from Barré’s family before his current estate administrator was appointed, “presumably for the purpose of bringing this action.”
Even without the license, Beyoncé argued she made use of less than 10 seconds of the YouTube audio, meaning it should be considered “fair use” under copyright law.
“The music video and live performances used the audio as ‘raw material’ that was ‘transformed in the creation of new information, new aesthetics, new insights and understandings’ — the “very type of activity that the fair-use doctrine intends to protect for the enrichment of society,” the singer argued, citing a high-profile copyright case between the artist Richard Prince and the photographer Patrick Cariou.
“Indeed, plaintiffs expressly allege that defendants used the YouTube videos ‘to create the tone, mood, setting and location of the New Orleans-themed ‘Formation,’ a highly transformative purpose compared to Mr. Barré’s stream-of-consciousness musings,” Beyoncé continued.
The singer also argued that Barré’s estate should not be able to “expand this case beyond the realm of copyright law” with allegations of unfair competition and unjust enrichment under the Lanham Act.
“Allowing Lanham Act claims like the plaintiff’s would create the sort of perpetual right in copyrighted works that the U.S. Supreme Court has expressly refused to recognize,” Beyoncé said. “Moreover, the First Amendment protects the use of Mr. Barré’s voice in this context because, as plaintiffs acknowledge, the use of the YouTube videos has artistic relevance and does not explicitly mislead as to the source of the music video or live performances.”
With that, the singer asked that the claims by Barré’s estate be dismissed in their entirety.
Counsel for the estate could not be reached for comment.
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