The Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed today that Drake’s use of the 1982 recording “Jimmy Smith Rap” in his song “Pound Cake/Paris Morton Music 2” was fair use of the copyrighted work. Drake’s song appeared on his 2013 album “Nothing Was the Same.”
The decision is unusual, not only because fair-use rulings are rare in songwriting cases, but also because in this era courts are largely favoring plaintiffs in cases like Robin Thicke and Pharrell’s “Blurred Lines” and Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse.” The news was first reported by The Hollywood Reporter.
The order goes into substantial detail in looking at the passage in question, which features Drake and Jay-Z rapping. Taking on one element of fair use, it reads, “A work is transformative when it ‘uses the copyrighted material itself for a purpose, or imbues it with a character, different from that for which it was created.’ ‘Pound Cake’ does just that. The message of the ‘Jimmy Smith Rap’ is one about the supremacy of jazz to the derogation of other types of music, which — unlike jazz — will not last. On the other hand, ‘Pound Cake’ sends a counter message — that it is not jazz music that reigns supreme, but rather all ‘real music,’ regardless of genre. Beyond the text of the lyrics themselves, ‘Pound Cake’ situates its sampling of approximately thirty-five seconds of the ‘Jimmy Smith Rap’ at the beginning of an approximately seven-minute-long hip-hop song in which Drake and Shawn Carter, professionally known as Jay-Z, rap about the greatness and authenticity of their work. Through both the alteration of the ‘Jimmy Smith Rap’ and the rest of the rap’s lyrics, ‘Pound Cake’ emphasizes that it is not the genre but the authenticity of the music that matters. In this manner, ‘Pound Cake’ criticizes the jazz-elitism that the ‘Jimmy Smith Rap’ espouses. By doing so, it uses the copyrighted work for ‘a purpose, or imbues it with a character, different from that for which it was created.’”
Got all that? In looking at another factor, essentially whether Drake’s recording competes commercially with “Jimmy Smith Rap,” the court determined the songs appeal to different audiences.