Digital Dose Wednesday- Beyonce “Formation” Legal Battle Over YouTube Sample

Queen Bey is about to get stung, but not without a fight! Many fans would have recognized that Anthony Barre, aka “Messy Mya,” is suing Beyoncé over the sampling of the late New Orleans comedian’s spoken-word YouTube clips used in the first single of Beyoncé’s critically acclaimed album “Lemonade.” Bey’s team is now trying to strike out these claims.

To make matters more complicated, the suit doesn’t just include Queen Bey, the rest of her hive and every company and person connected with “Formation” is also being charged. In February the lawsuit was filed by Angel Barre, the sister of Messy May. Barre seeks royalties, damages, and an order that Barre be credited as a writer, composer, producer and artist on the single.

The suit revolves around Beyoncé’s use of Barré’s performance art, “A 27 Piece Huh?” and “Booking the Hoes from New Wildin.” Where Beyoncé’s Formation video incorporates Messy Mya’s voice in the commencement saying “What happened at the New Orleans” and later in the video, “Bitch, I’m black by popular demand.” The claim alleges that the performance samples infringes the right in the two works despite the vocals not being on the actual sound recording of the track and only on the video.

Mary Ellen Roy, the attorney representing Beyoncé, filed a motion to dismiss the suit last Friday. Roy contends that the claimants grossly overstated the use of Barre’s work in the “Formation” video and live performances- including claims of use during Super Bowl 50. Furthermore, Roy points out that the clip of Barre’s voice did not even come up during Beyoncé’s Super Bowl performance.

However, Roy does not dispute the fact that “the Music Video used a total of approximately ten seconds of audio from two YouTube videos featuring Anthony Barré – also known as ‘Messy Mya’- walking through the streets of New Orleans speaking to the camera and interacting with others along the way.” “About six seconds of that same audio was played at Beyoncé’s performance of the Song during the “Formation World Tour.”

Despite this, since the use of the clips were so marginal, Roy argues that the use of the clips falls within the protection of the fair-use doctrine. In any case the defendants don’t need this defense anyways since the music video producer licensed the work. “Pretty Bird licensed the YouTube Videos form Mr.Barré’s family before plaintiff Angel Barré had herself appointed as the administer of the Estate of Anthony Barré’s weeks after the Music Video’s premier” had been released. Roy is of the view that the action was brought specifically after the commercial success.

Roy also seeks to use the motion to remove all defendants who are irrelevant and not involved with the lie performances. Even if the claims survive, only Sony, Beyonce, and director Melina Matsoukas and Pretty Bird Pictures should remain.

Credit: Jessica Wong

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