Beyoncé Sued For Copyright Infringement For Copying Phrases in Her Song “Formation”

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Takeaway: The estate of Youtuber Messy Mya filed a suit against Beyoncé for copyright infringement for sampling Mya saying, “what happened in New Orleans?” in the beginning of “Formation” without permission.  The voice sample is hard to dispute as any voice other than Mya’s so it will be interesting to see how Beyoncé’s counsel will try to refute such claims.

Anthony Barré, also known as Messy Mya, was a highly recognizable New Orleans artist, DJ and YouTube star.  Mya’s estate is seeking “more than $20 million in back royalties and other damages” and also named Sony Music, Jay-Z, and other songwriters as named entities in the suit.  This is not the first time that Beyoncé has been sued for sampling parts of other artists’ music or artistic works.

Mya’s estate stated that it “received nothing…no acknowledgment, no credit no remuneration of any kind” after attempting to reach out to Beyoncé for using Mya’s voice sample without their permission.

The lawsuit argues that “[t]here should be no doubt that Anthony Barré’s unique, gravelly voice, cadence and words were sampled by defendants.”  When listening to Beyoncé’s “Formation,” it is fairly obvious to a layman’s ear that it is Mya’s voice that was sampled.

“Section 107 of the Copyright Act provides the statutory framework for determining whether something is a fair use and identifies certain types of uses—such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research—as examples of activities that may qualify as fair use.” Beyoncé could argue that the use of the sample was making a “political statement” and therefore would be fair use, however that most likely will be an uphill battle.

However, because “Formation” was a chart-topping, Grammy-nominated song, and worth millions, the political undertones may not be sufficient to persuade a judge to consider that fair use.