Key Lesson from Recent Kanye Copyright Case: Register Your Music, Photos, Art and Software – OR ELSE!
Kanye West, and Def Jam Recordings, were recently sued by Texas preacher, Bishop David Paul Moten, who accused Kanye of stealing a recorded sermon he gave to his congregation and using the sermon in a new song.
The allegedly offending song, “Come to Life” was released on August 29, 2021, on Kanye’s album, Donda. Bishop Moten alleges that his sermon is repeated throughout, claiming that “twenty percent (20%) of the entire sound recording “Come to Life” is comprised of unauthorized, unlicensed samples of the Sermon.”
The lawsuit alleges (1) copyright infringement, (2) unjust enrichment, and (3) conversion. Essentially, Bishop Moten has alleged that Kanye stole his sermon for Kanye’s own personal use without compensating Bishop Moten for the use of his own property.
The Complaint sought hefty damages including the “disgorgement of profits, compensatory, consequential, incidental, and punitive damages …. plus, statutory fines, costs, interest and expenses.”
On SLG’s review of the Complaint, our team noticed a glaring omission – namely, that the Bishop did not allege that a recording of the sermon was registered with the U.S. Copyright Office, nor did he provide any proof of such registration. Without copyright registration with the U.S. Copyright Office, a plaintiff is barred from filing a copyright infringement lawsuit. SLG has written about this essential condition to suit in a prior post.
Oddly, only fifteen (15) days after filing the Complaint, the Bishop voluntarily withdrew the entire action. This could be due to various potential factors, including: (i) settlement of the case with Kanye; (ii) a realization that the copyright infringement claims would fail out of the gate; (iii) a change of heart, or (iv) countless other possible reasons, including a decision to register the recording of the sermon with the U.S. Copyright Office, or to strengthen the claims. SLG will continue to monitor this case as it is refiled and moves through the court system.
The quagmire of copyright law is an example of the intellectual property minefield that companies and individuals face each day. SLG has extensive experience advising clients on copyright matters and representing clients in connection with copyright infringement actions. For more information on how SLG can assist you or your business, please contact SLG at firstname.lastname@example.org.
 Moten v. Def Jam Recordings, et.al., 3:22-cv-00991-K (N.D. Tx. 2022) Dkt. #1, p. 5.
 Id. at p. 6.
 Moten, Dkt. #5, at p. 1.