Drug dealing, murder, sex and gospel music aren’t topics that generally intersect, but that’s exactly what happened in a rap song that is now at the center of a federal lawsuit.
Clara Shepherd Warrick and Jimmy Weary filed a complaint Nov. 19 in Chicago’s federal court against Shawn Carter (Jay-Z), Andre Young (Dr. Dre), William Roberts II (Rick Ross) and producer Jacob Dutton (Jake One), as well their recording labels, for the alleged use of the plaintiffs’ gospel song in a track on Ross' Grammy-nominated rap album “God Forgives- I Don’t”.
Represented by James Montgomery Jr. of James D. Montgomery & Associates in Chicago, Warrick and Weary claim the defendants “hijacked music and lyrics” from their song “I’m So Grateful” for use in the “vulgar” rap song titled “3 Kings.”
The plaintiffs first filed the suit in February, but it was dismissed in July based on the pre-condition of their filing of a supplemental copyright registration for their song.
Supplemental copyright registrations are generally filed if the information in the original filing is either incorrect or incomplete. Warrick and Weary claim they filed the supplemental registration earlier this year.
In their recently-filed suit, Warrick and Weary assert they recorded and copyrighted “I’m So Grateful” in 1976 while working together in the gospel group “Crowns of Glory.”
The suit states Warrick wrote the lyrics to the song, which appeared on the album “God Save the Children,” and that Weary composed the music.
The plaintiffs claim the use of their song in a rap that includes lyrics like “come and suck a d**k for a millionaire” and “spray these ni**as baby just like daddy taught ya” hurts the commercial value of the original song among gospel musicians, as well as their reputations.
Warrick and Weary also contend the defendants knew about the need to get permission to sample their song before its release, but failed to approach either about licensing.
“Defendants have already committed and are continuing to commit copyright infringement by copying, sampling from, performing and distributing derivative copies of Plaintiffs’ work without Plaintiffs’ authorization and against Plaintiffs’ objections,” the complaint states.
About one year ago, the suit asserts, the plaintiffs’ attorney notified the defendants in writing of the alleged copyright infringement and asked them to cease and desist.
The attorneys for rappers Rick Ross and Dr. Dre responded by claiming they had permission to use the song, the complaint states.
After they responded, the suit contends that counsel for Universal Music Group, one of the recording labels named as a defendant in the case, produced copies of two writers’ agreements-- one signed by Warrick and one signed by Weary -- as alleged proof they had the right to use the gospel song.
Weary, however, claims he never signed the agreement. He asserts his agreement was signed as “James Weary,” but "Weary’s legal name is Jimmy Lee Weary and he has never gone by or signed his name as James Weary.”
According to the suit, Weary was given credit in the album on which “3 Kings” appeared for song writing. He claims he did not give permission for his name or likeness to be used in conjunction with “3 Kings”, and doesn't want to be connected to the song in any way.
For her part, Warrick alleges that any agreement she signed is expired, and did not allow for the use of her lyrics in rap.
Along with a permanent injunction against using “I’m So Grateful” in the “3 Kings” song, Warrick and Weary are asking that any profits made off the song be paid to them. They are also seeking enhanced damages for the defendants’ alleged willful copyright infringement.
In addition, the plaintiffs want all infringing copies of “3 Kings” owned or controlled by the defendants be impounded, including complete albums on which the song appears.