Most popular music followers will instantly recognise the pulsing background beat of Eminem’s Grammy and Academy Award winning track “Lose Yourself”. So popular was this beat that the New Zealand National Party used a distinctly similar sounding track (which they claim was lawfully purchased from a music stock library) during their electoral campaign in 2014. Eminem’s publishing company, Eight-Mile Style, took the National Party to court in New Zealand, claiming copyright infringement, in September 2014.
Last week, hot on the heels of the National Party’s ejection from government in the country’s latest election, New Zealand’s High Court handed down judgment in the “Lose Yourself” case and found in Eminem’s favour. The court found that even though the National Party ostensibly went through the correct channels and obtained the track from a music library, the track (aptly entitled “Eminem-Esque”) ultimately infringed the copyright in Eminem’s “Lose Yourself”. In addition, the National Party was ordered to pay Eminem nearly US$415 000 (plus interest) in damages.
This decision is considered a huge victory for musicians and songwriters and is likely to be enormously influential in New Zealand, Australia, the UK and elsewhere.
The decision is also an important lesson for advertisers in particular, as it shows that even if copyrighted images or tracks are lawfully purchased it is not necessarily a clear indication that use of the work in question will not infringe copyright. Advertisers should always take care to ensure that ownership of copyright in any work they wish to use it properly investigated and the necessary permissions obtained, as even though, as is the case with the National Party, there may be recourse to the stock library to mitigate their financial loss, the reputational damage associated with a claim of infringement of IP rights brought against a company may be irreparable.