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January 21, 2009

The Weedman lawsuit, up in smoke

Sing along, now, to the stirring lyrics of "The Weedman," the crunkish song at the heart of the latest copyright infringement ruling by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

We smoke everyday
On an average 9,10,11,12 even 13 blunts
But when we on our last
And we ain't got no mo grass
Its time to re up
Got to hurry up
Go and re up

Here's the artistic context, noted by the 11th Circuit: the rapper "Lil Jon came up with the idea for a song about calling a 'weedman' after someone suggested they call a supplier of marijuana or 'weed.'" A musician named Redwin Wilchombe, inspired, thereupon sang a chorus and melody. Lil Jon offered suggestions, Wilchombe revised and extended his piece, and a version eventually ended up on the album "Kings of Crunk," which sold about two million copies.

Wilchombe apparently was never paid or credited for the work. He sued, claiming copyright infringement and breach of fiduciary duty.

The 11th Circuit, though, concluded Wilchombe had granted an "implied license" to his work through his conduct, explaining hat "it is common practice in the music industry for an artist getting a big break into production to receive only credit for his work." It's, you know, pro bono rapping. Maybe, Judge Robert Lewis Hinkle noted, Wilchombe might have had a case if instead of copyright infringement or breach of fiduciary duty he tried instead to demand royalties as a co-author. But it's too late, now; time, perhaps to follow the song's advice and:

Nine getting kinda chinky in my eyes yea
Ten I think I'm gonna smoke some again (yea)
Eleven I'm trying to get back to the heavens
Twelve damn this weed is good as hell yea


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"Suits & Sentences" is a legal affairs blog written by Michael Doyle, a reporter for McClatchy's Washington Bureau. He was a Knight Journalism Fellow at Yale Law School, where he earned a Master of Studies in Law; he also earned a Masters in Government from The Johns Hopkins University with a thesis on the Freedom of Information Act. He teaches journalism as an adjunct instructor at The George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs.

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