Following up on our February 25, 2019, article entitled “Miley Cyrus Will Face Lawsuit Over Copyright Infringement Claims Over ‘We Can’t Stop’”: On June 28, 2019, U.S. District Judge for the Southern District of New York, Lewis Kaplan, ruled that copyright infringement claims against Miley Cyrus over her 2013 hit song “We Can’t Stop” will proceed.
Judge Kaplan rejected an effort to end a case that alleges Cyrus lifted much of her song from “We Run Things,” a song released in Jamaica in 1988 by a reggae artist known as “Flourgon.” However, Judge Kaplan also ruled that Flourgon cannot recover damages for any infringement prior to March 2015, or recover any so-called statutory damages at all, substantially reducing the potential damages Cyrus will pay if she loses the case.
Flourgon – whose legal name is Michael May – sued Cyrus last year, claiming “We Can’t Stop” took central elements from his track, “We Run Things”; “We Can’t Stop” prominently features the line “We run things, things don’t run we,” whereas Flourgon’s song features the line “We run things, things no run we.”
Cyrus moved to dismiss the case in August of 2018, arguing that Flourgon merely adapted the short phrase used in both songs from a common phrase used in Jamaican English: “Wi Run Tings. Tings nuh run wi,” and that the “mere transliteration” of an existing phrase is not the kind of original expression copyright law was designed to protect. “Plaintiff’s entire claim rests on the far-fetched notion that defendants’ use of a variation of a short phrase originating from the Jamaican patois infringes his copyright in a different and negligible variation of that same phrase…That is not the law.”
But in January, Judge Kaplan denied the motion: “Defendants’ arguments to a large extent are predicated on an incorrect assumption that the phrase is a trivial adaptation of a well-known, pre-existing Jamaican saying…While that ultimately may prove to be true, the court cannot make that determination on this motion.”
Both sides are now awaiting their day in court which date is yet to be determined.
Cyrus is represented by Marcia B. Paul, James Rosenfeld and Meredith I. Santana of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP.
Flourgon is represented by Stephen L. Drummond and JoAnn Squillace of Drummond & Squillace PLLC.
The case is May v. Cyrus et al., case number 1:18-cv-02238, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
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