Megan Thee Stallion Beats ‘Savage’ Copyright Infringement Lawsuit Centering on Decades-Old Instrumental Track

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A federal court has dismissed with prejudice a copyright infringement lawsuit filed against Megan Thee Stallion (pictured) and others over ‘Savage.’ Photo Credit: Valerie Albert

A New York federal court has officially dismissed with prejudice a copyright infringement complaint filed against Megan Thee Stallion, Warner Music, and others over “Savage.”

District Judge Katherine Failla just recently granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss the pro se action, acknowledging in a footnote the “substantial assistance” provided by one of her interns in drafting the opinion.

The case itself kicked off in February of 2023, when the plaintiff, a hip-hop producer named James Greene, first alleged that “Savage” had lifted elements of a 1999 instrumental track entitled “It’s About to Be On.”

In brief, the claims at hand resembled those in a number of other infringement actions. The filing party, while acknowledging that he hadn’t released “It’s About to Be On” commercially, identified an early 2000s effort to get the song into the hands of label execs and other well-connected industry figures via CD.

One of those figures was allegedly “Savage” producer and co-writer J. White Did It’s purported mentor, who, after allegedly receiving a copy of the plaintiff’s relevant song two decades ago, was said to have played it for J. White Did It some time before the 2020 release of “Savage.”

Once again in the interest of relative brevity, Judge Failla pointed to Greene’s perceived failure to sufficiently illustrate that the non-party mentor had actually listened to the song on the CDs (one allegedly given to him in 2000, the other in 2004) or played it for the appropriate defendant.

Not stopping there, though, the judge also explored the plaintiff’s main claims of creative overlap between the songs, emphasizing that the described time signature and rhythmic sequence components couldn’t be protected under U.S. copyright law.

Employing the ordinary-observer test, the court also described as “qualitatively distinct” the alleged use of “the same siren sounds and piano instrumentation” in the songs.

“Despite this cursory and unprotectable structural similarity,” Judge Failla wrote of another alleged similarity, “the substance of the two drum patterns is qualitatively different, and would preclude an ordinary listener from finding substantial similarity.”

While the dismissal appears relatively straightforward, music-specific copyright litigation is in many ways a mixed bag, with rulings and results varying dramatically in some venues and situations.

It was only a few weeks back that a California court rejected a dismissal motion in a far-reaching action alleging the theft of reggaeton itself across a multitude of tracks. The plaintiffs, the judge summed up, had “sufficiently alleged the protectability of the drum pattern, interplay of compositional elements, or the combination of these elements.”

And in different cases yet, the court has acknowledged “apparent similarities” between works but nevertheless tossed infringement claims on technical grounds.