A New York jazz artist who said a prominent Chicago rapper didn’t have permission to sample his work is taking the matter to federal court.
Abdul Wali Muhammad filed a copyright infringement complaint Sept. 12 in Chicago against Chancellor Bennett, famously known as Chance the Rapper. At issue is Muhammad’s composition, “Bridge Through Time,” which Muhammad said Chance sampled in his song, “Windows,” despite lacking permission to do so. Muhammad also named as a defendant Chance the Rapper LLC, a company he said Bennett created to license merchandise and promote concerts.
A resident of Brewster, N.Y., Muhammad was known as Eric P. Saunders until a 1985 name change. In addition to performing and composing jazz, Muhammad is a lawyer, though in this matter he is represented by Roth Fioretti LLC, of Chicago, and Green Patent Law, of Rye, N.Y. He said he registered the “Bridge Through Time” copyright on May 21, 1979, and a related mark on June 23, 1980.
Muhammad listed to “Bridge Through Time” links on YouTube and cited Lonnie Liston Smith as one of several artists to records the tune. He said Chance used “a substantial majority portion” of the song for “Windows,” a fact he didn’t learn until April, although the song was on Chance’s 2012 debut mix tape “10 Day.”
In a tweet dated Jan. 7, 2017, Chance said the mix tape “was fraudulently put on iTunes and Apple Music. It’ll be taken down shortly. (“10 Day”) and acid rap will always be inclusive, elusive and free.” Muhammad’s complaint noted “Windows” is available on Soundcloud, YouTube and numerous other websites, said he has sold merchandise related to “10 Day” and “has received profits from the marketing, promotion and sale of merchandise, performances, tickets to concerts and other performances as a result of” the infringement.
Muhammad’s attorneys sent a cease and desist letter May 18, but said Chance “failed and refused to take any action to halt access to the infringing song.”
According to whosampled.com, a website with the tagline “Exploring the DNA of music,” at least 10 artists have sampled Liston’s version of “Bridge Through Time,” including Jay-Z and Tha Dogg Pound, featuring rappers Snoop Dogg and Nate Dogg.
In addition to a jury trial, Muhammad seeks preliminary and permanent injunctions preventing the copying, distribution, performance sale or marketing of “Windows.” He wants all extant “Windows” recordings to be impounded and, pursuant to final judgment, disposed of or destroyed and also asked the court to order an accounting of all profits attributable to “Windows” for either the imposition of a constructive trust or an award of statutory damages, including those for willful infringement. Muhammad also wants the court to award him legal fees and court costs.
Muhammad’s complaint summarized his musical career, noting he “has performed with various musical artists including Brook Benton, Jean Carn, Freddie Hubbard, Taj Mahal, Norman Connors, Donny Hathaway, Bobbi Humphrey, Melvin Van Peebles, Noel Pointer, Lonnie Liston Smith, Peter Tosh, Marcus Miller and Stanley Turrentine,” and also “has scored for television, and was bandleader for the Broadway musical ‘Mule Bone.’” Muhammad also said he received an ASCAP Songwriters Award.
His law practice focuses on criminal and civil rights law in New York state and federal courts.