Bradley attorney Samuel Lipshie commented on a recent lawsuit that rap producer Terence Thomas brought to the U.S. Supreme Court over rights to Tupac Shakur’s 1990s hit song “Dear Mama.” Thomas, otherwise known as DJ Master Tee, alleged that another rap producer had usurped credit and royalties from the song over the last three decades.
Despite the Copyright Act’s three-year statute of limitations, the Supreme Court may sanction the “discovery rule,” which would permit Thomas’s lawsuit to proceed. With the FX Networks LLC docuseries airing, Master Tee fully realized the extent to which credit and revenue had been denied despite evidence that Shakur, who performed under the name 2Pac, recognized Master Tee’s contribution.
Lipshie said the nature and timing of the complaint indicated Master Tee’s counsel was aware of and hoped to benefit from the case before the high court. The precedent of the “discovery rule” allows for unlimited damages for decades-late allegations when evidence and witnesses have been lost, which rivals the Copyright Act’s statute of limitations.
“I don’t believe in coincidences very often. It fits in there perfectly after the Supreme Court granted Warner Chappell’s petition,” Lipshie said. “It is an example of the type of litigation some want to curtail. It exemplifies some of the problems and policy issues with allowing unlimited look-back for damages and effectively ignoring the statute of limitations.”
Lipshie acknowledged that music royalty statements can be hard to decipher. “You can’t tell from royalty statements what you get, what is being paid for by whom for what,” he said. “Publishing companies are the only people who know how to read them.”
There is a question whether it should matter when an alleged victim learned about infringement. Lipshie noted the axiom that “there’s no right without a remedy.”
Lipshie said he believes the justices will now come down with a middle ground regarding the “discovery rule” and existing statute of limitations. “They clearly want to get rid of this overhang from the ‘Raging Bull’ case. There’s something in it for everyone,” Lipshie said. “They’re going to have to come up with an opinion that settles the circuit split and causes there to be a uniform approach to the way they handle cases.”
The full article, “Tupac Song Rights Suit Turns on High Court ‘Discovery Rule’ Case,” was published by Bloomberg Law on December 21, 2023.