2020’s spate of copyright cases just keeps getting weirder. In the latest legal tussle over music rights, the record label and publishing companies that worked on J Dilla’s Donuts — an album that dropped three days before the hip-hop artist’s death in 2006 — have until next Wednesday to respond to a legal complaint alleging that the album sampled a rock anthem without permission.
According to the complaint, first filed in March of 2020 and amended in April, J Dilla’s album rightfully sampled a variety of music by the likes of James Brown, Dionne Warwick, Run-DMC, the Beastie Boys, and 10cc — but sampled 10cc’s “The Worst Band in the World,” a song off the English rock band’s 1974 album Sheet Music, without permission, for his track “Workinonit.”
The plaintiff in this case is Music Sales Corporation, a New York-based company that has been responsible for administering “The Worst Band in the World” since it entered into an exclusive administration agreement with the song’s longtime owner, publishing company Man-Ken Music, Ltd, in 2019. The plaintiff claims J Dilla did not obtain or seek to obtain a license to use the composition in any fashion — nor did anyone from the list of defendants, which includes Universal Music, E.P.H.C.Y. Publishing, and label Stones Throw Records.
Donuts was rereleased as a box set in 2013 and on cassettes in 2014. The complaint claims that, before Music Sales Corp teamed up with Man-Ken, the plaintiff’s predecessor informed all three defendants of the infringement concerns in or around 2014. Despite this information, though, Stones Throw released a 10th-anniversary edition of Donuts in 2016.
Later, Universal and E.P.H.C.Y. Publishing went on to license “Workinonit” for use by Netflix in two Dave Chappelle specials, Deep in the Heart of Texas and The Age of Spin, both of which aired in 2017 and have been hugely popular with comedy shows on the platform. The audio from those specials then resulted in a Grammy award for 2017’s Best Comedy Album.
Music Sales Corp says it is entitled to compensatory damages for the “deliberate, willful, malicious, oppressive” action — as well as the profits earned by defendants for at least the last three years, and it seeks compensation to cover attorneys’ fees and other costs related to the suit.
Representatives for Universal Music and Stones Throw Records did not immediately respond to Rolling Stone‘s request for comment. J Dilla died in 2006 at his home in Los Angeles, but has released music posthumously via his family members.