A New York City judge dismissed a copyright infringement complaint filed against Warner Chappell Music, rapper Jay-Z, producer Timbaland, and vocalist Ginuwine.

Soul musician Ernie Hines filed the case, alleging that the 1990s tracks Paper Chase, performed and co-written by Jay-Z, and Toe 2 Toe, performed and co-written by Ginuwine, infringed on the copyright of his 1969 song Help Me Put Out The Flame (In My Heart). Timbaland produced and co-wrote both tracks.

According to Reuters, Judge Paul Oetken of the US District Court for the Southern District of New York found in his judgement issued Monday (September 25) that the part of Hines’ song that the 1990s songs allegedly stole “is not protected under copyright.”

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The case revolved around a six-second introduction to Help Me Put Out The Flame that Hines claimed was used in both Paper Chase and Toe 2 Toe.

The court, however, agreed with musical experts who said that this beginning was a scarcely altered version of Mysterioso Pizzicato, a 1914 musical number that was often utilized as accompaniment in silent movies of the time and has been dubbed “the movie villain’s theme.”

Judge Oetker found that because that piece of music is in the public domain and Hines’ entrance only slightly transforms it, this component of Hines’ work cannot be protected by copyright.

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Hines’ introduction “includes only material that is not unique enough to be copyrightable.” “Authors and artists cannot claim copyright in ‘the raw materials of art,’ such as ‘previous creative works that have fallen into the public domain,’ as well as ‘the basic building blocks of music, including tempo and individual notes,'” Judge Oetker wrote, citing a case from 2021 (Clinton v. UMG Recordings).

The judge also agreed with the defendants’ assertion that “Hines cannot establish a substantial enough similarity between the allegedly infringing works and Help Me to support a triable claim of copyright infringement.”

“Given the ubiquitous appearance of the notes in the Introduction in the public domain, as well as Hines’s minimal additions to those notes, no reasonable jury could find that the amount of copying here is sufficient to support a copyright infringement claim,” the judge said.

Paper Chase was released in 1998 and was included on Jay-Z’s third studio album, Vol. 2… Life is a struggle. Toe 2 Toe debuted in 1999 on Ginuwine’s second studio album, 100% Ginuwine.

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Neither single was a huge success, with Toe 2 Toe receiving roughly 285,000 Spotify streams as of latest count, while Paper Chase received 1.7 million streams, compared to hundreds of millions for Jay-Z’s more popular tracks.

Hines first filed his complaint in 2019, stating that it took him two decades to sue since he doesn’t listen to hip-hop and first heard Paper Chase and Toe 2 Toe in 2018.

According to the original complaint, Hines was seeking at least USD $2 million in damages for the claimed violation.

Jay-Z’s Roc-A-Fella Records, Def Jam Recordings, Universal Music Group, Sony Music Holdings Inc., and Shawn Carter (aka Jay-Z) were listed as defendants in that initial case, which can be read in full here.

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The court dismissed the original action in 2020 for “failure to state a claim,” which meant that the complaint didn’t specify which portions of Hines’ music were allegedly infringed on by Paper Chase and Toe 2 Toe.

That dismissal gave Hines permission to amend his complaint, which he did, filing a new complaint naming Warner Chappell Music, Jay-Z, Timbaland, and Ginuwine as defendants.

Hines included BMG Rights Management LLC as a defendant in an addition to that case. BMG, on the other hand, paid the lawsuit separately in 2022. The settlement’s specifics were not made public.

In the most recent ruling, Judge Oetker granted the defendants’ request for a summary judgment, which is a finding by a judge that skips a full trial. Judge Oetker also dismissed Hines’ earlier request to extend the discovery period.

“The parties have already had one year to complete fact discovery (pursuant to a deadline that has already been extended twice), and… the new material Hines sought through discovery [is] not proportional to the needs of the case,” the judge said.


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