Kanye West dropped “New Slaves” in 2013 to critical acclaim, though now, the rapper faces $2.5 million for alleged copyright infringement and a mysterious $10,000 check.
The controversy surrounds “Gyöngyhajú lány,” a Hungarian pop song released in 1969 that remains classic in its home country (and beyond). That was used by Kanye West for “New Slaves,” and apparently licensed properly.
First, take a list to “New Slaves,” starting at the 2:50 mark.
Now, take a listen to “Gyöngyhajú lány” (starting at that 1:28 mark).
West did little to hide the sample, and its use was widely known (especially among music-obsessed fans). But in the lawsuit, filed this week in the US District Court for Manhattan, songwriter Gábor Presser claims that West lifted the song for the second half of “New Slaves” without permission. Presser alleges that the track wasn’t cleared for use, at least to his satisfaction.
Strangely, West’s camp sent the writer a $10,000, according to the filing, though Presser opted not to cash the check. Whether that was the ‘agreement’ is unclear, though it’s hard to imagine that attorneys for either West or label Universal Music Group arranged such a sloppy accord. Either way, Presser didn’t like whatever terms were being arranged, but used the check as an admission or guilt (and botched attempt to license on their terms).
Separately, reports indicated that West cleared the sample for use with the label releasing the song, Hungaroton Records, which may explain the payment.
So far, there’s been no response from West’s attorneys or Universal Music Group, who released the album Yeezus containing the track.
Image by Darron Birgenheier, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC by 2.0).
So a worthless scumbag can completely cop your song and rerelease it, make millions, and get called a genius, without your permission? Sounds like a perfect reason for never signing to any label.
Uncleared samples and blatant copyright violation is still prevalent in hip-hop and EDM. I work for a well known indie. A major hip-hop group, popular since the mid-90’s, used a lengthy excerpt from one of our recordings on their 11th album, released in 2014. The group’s label, Island Def Jam/UMG, took a year and a half after commercial release of the album to pay-up and we STILL don’t have a signed license. We just don’t have the legal muscle or resources to do much about it. It’s infuriating.
With my vocal stems I spend more time dealing with ego tripping “successful” artists illegal use than with regular average djs and fair licensing. The culture of top-down abuse from musicians is pretty sad… bc they are generally out of good ideas by the time they have enough clout to be abusive, so just steal dreams from below and let the lawyers sort it out. …but not you Kanye, I respect you and your deep talent, you can send me a 10,000 check at your leisure.