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Rapper Kanye West once humbly proclaimed, “I realize that my place and position in history is that I will go down as the voice of this generation, of this decade, I will be the loudest voice.” One can only hope that the voice of this generation is not a mishmash imitation of artists past, but according to a copyright infringement lawsuit filed against Kanye West, the voice of this generation is a copycat of sources from Nietzsche to Daft Punk. Virginia rapper Vincent Peters (“Vince P”) filed a lawsuit on June 25 claiming that Kanye West modeled his hit 2007 song “Stronger” after Vince P’s 2006 song “Stronger.” The similarities alleged include references to model Kate Moss and the phrase “couldn’t wait no longer” (which rhymes with “stronger” in both songs). Most importantly, the centerpiece of both songs is the Nietzsche maxim: “What does not kill me, makes me stronger.”
The issue facing Vince P is that his lawsuit hinges on words that are utterly commonplace. As in all copyright cases, Vince P must prove access and substantial similarity. Vince P alleges that West’s business manager had a copy of Vince P’s song “Stronger,” which if true could be enough to prove access. The more interesting issue is whether there is substantial similarity between the two songs. If both stem from a common source in the public domain, then there is no copyright infringement. So if both artists independently wrote songs based on the Nietszche maxim (which, at this point, is a cliche) and independently thought to rhyme “stronger” with “longer” (which is hardly the most innovative rhyme), then there is no infringement. As the saying goes, it matters not if two songs are the same back to back, if they are both back to Bach.
Attorneys will be in murky territory trying to prove that West either did or did not independently create his “Stronger” because few entertainers meticulously document their creative processes. In a year where most movies are remakes and many best-selling novels are reworked classics, perhaps artists have run out of original, unique ideas, and the “voice of this generation” unfortunately is a Girl Talk-style mashup of past art and entertainment. If so, then the lawsuit against West highlights the problems that artists face proving copyright infringement in a world of over-copied and over-used music, quotations, and ideas.
– Anne Goodwyn
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