New Zealand’s high court has ruled that the National party infringed on singer Eminem’s copyright and awarded the rapper’s publisher NZ$600,000 (AU$535,000/£315,000) in damages.
The court ruled on 25 October that the National party’s use of a track titled Eminem Esque was “sufficiently similar” to Eminem’s original song that it impinged on copyright and that Lose Yourself was a “highly original work”.
“Eminem Esque has substantially copied Lose Yourself,” the ruling stated.
“The differences between the two works are minimal; the close similarities and the indiscernible differences in drum beat, the ‘melodic line’ and the piano figures make Eminem Esque strikingly similar to Lose Yourself. Eminem Esque substantially reproduces the essence of Lose Yourself. The parts of Eminem Esque used in the National party’s campaign advertisements also substantially reproduce Lose Yourself.”
Lose Yourself, from the movie 8 Mile, won an Academy award for best original song in 2003 and a Grammy for best rap song in 2004.
The National party advertisement featuring Eminem Esque was played 186 times on television during the 2014 election campaign over an 11-day period.
Representing the plaintiff, Garry Williams said Eminem’s “iconic musical composition” was rarely licensed and rights to it were “enormously valuable”, telling the court: “Lose Yourself is a jewel in the crown of Eminem’s catalogue.”
Adam Simpson, director of Simpsons solicitors, which acted for Eminem’s music company, Eight Mile Style, and writers Jeff Bass and Luis Resto, said the ruling was hugely significant for copyright infringements in the global music industry.
“This decision is a warning to soundalike music producers and their clients everywhere,” said Simpson. “The ruling clarifies and confirms the rights of artists and songwriters. It sets a major precedent in New Zealand and will be influential in Australia, the UK and elsewhere.”
Joel Martin, speaking on behalf of the publishers, said Eminem was not approached for permission to use his work in National’s rowing-themed ad during the election that saw John Key re-elected as prime minister.
Martin said after the ruling: “We find it incredible that the National party went to such great lengths to avoid responsibility for using a weak rip-off of Lose Yourself. They knew we would not have permitted the use of the song in their political advertisement; however, they proceeded at their own risk and blamed others for their infringement.”
The National party strongly rejected the allegation it infringed the rapper’s work and said the backing track came from an Australian-based production outfit.
“The National party will be defending this action vigorously,” the party said at the time. “It appears though that the National party is the only organisation that has used this material that is being legally targeted.”
But in Wednesday’s high court ruling, Justice Helen Cull disagreed. “Eminem Esque sounds like a copy and is a copy of Lose Yourself,” she said.