Soul singer Syl Johnson has filed suit against Kanye West and Jay-Z, alleging that a track on the superstar rappers’ hit album “Watch the Throne” infringes on the copyright of his 1967 hit “Different Strokes.”
Action, filed Oct. 14 in federal court in Illinois, names Universal Music Group, Island Def Jam Music Group and Jay-Z’s Roc-A-Fella Records as co-defendants, and seeks an injunction, actual and punitive damages and attorney’s fees.
According to the suit, the “Watch the Throne” track “The Joy” – originally released as a free download online — contains an unauthorized sample from “Different Strokes,” originally released on the singer’s Twilight label.
Through his publishing company Syl-Zel, Johnson also controls the copyright of the song, penned by John Cameron and John Zachary.
Action claims that Johnson has been paid no royalties from the sale of the West/Jay-Z release, which has sold nearly 1 million copies since its release in August.
“Different Strokes” is a cult soul classic that has been sampled by dozens of hip-hop artists, including Public Enemy, N.W.A., Wu-Tang Clan, Boogie Down Productions and the Beastie Boys. Michael Jackson even employed a “Strokes” sample on a 1997 dance remix.
Johnson’s suit claims that West had previously sought to sample the song on his 2010 set “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” but clearance could not be secured in time for the release.
Johnson – the subject of a massive 2010 boxed set reissue of his ’60s work by Chicago’s Numero Group – has been involved in several other cases of litigation involving use of his recordings and copyrights by other performers.
In June, the Chicago-based singer’s appeal of a 2008 decision in a copyright suit filed in 2003 against rap act Cypress Hill involving his 1969 song “Is It Because I’m Black” was dismissed in the same Illinois court.
A UMG spokesman said the company had no comment on the suit.