Supreme Court allows copyright claim tied to rapper Flo Rida track to proceed

The Flo Rida track "In the Ayer" incorporated elements of "Jam the Box," created in the 1980s by Pretty Tony.

ByJohn Fritze, CNN CNNWire logo
Thursday, May 9, 2024
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The Supreme Court on Thursday sided with a man who claimed he had copyrighted music decades ago that was later used in a 2008 single by the rapper Flo Rida.

The Flo Rida track "In the Ayer" incorporated elements of "Jam the Box," created in the 1980s by Tony Butler, also known as Pretty Tony. Butler's former business partner, Sherman Nealy, claimed he never agreed to license the music and that he didn't know it was being used because he was in and out of prison.

Nealy sued Warner Chappell Music, Inc., and Artist Publishing Group in 2018 for damages. The 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Nealy could sue for damages as far back as 2008 despite a three-year statute of limitations in copyright law, and on Thursday, the Supreme Court agreed.

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Some federal courts have allowed copyright plaintiffs to start the clock on that three-year window at the point they become aware of the alleged infringement, rather than when it is alleged to have occurred. Because of his prison sentences, Nealy said he didn't discover the use of the music until around 2016.

The issue for the Supreme Court was how far back a plaintiff may seek for damages. At oral argument in February, several justices suggested that question was premature. Instead, they said, the high court should first resolve whether lower courts may allow lawsuits more than three years after the alleged infringement in the first place.

Justice Elena Kagan wrote the 6-3 majority opinion. Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote a dissenting opinion.

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