J Dilla Passed In 2006 & Is Now Being Sued for Using a 1974 Rock Sample

In the latest legal tussle over music rights, the record label and publishing companies that worked on J Dilla’s Donuts — an album that dropped three days before the hip-hop artist’s death in 2006 — have until next Wednesday to respond to a legal complaint alleging that the album sampled a rock anthem without permission.

According to the complaint, first filed in March of 2020 and amended in April, J Dilla’s album rightfully sampled a variety of music by the likes of James Brown, Dionne Warwick, Run-DMC, the Beastie Boys, and 10cc — but sampled 10cc’s “The Worst Band in the World,” a song off the English rock band’s 1974 album Sheet Music, without permission, for his track “Workinonit.”

The plaintiff in this case is Music Sales Corporation, a New York-based company that has been responsible for administering “The Worst Band in the World” since it entered into an exclusive administration agreement with the song’s longtime owner, publishing company Man-Ken Music, Ltd, in 2019. The plaintiff claims J Dilla did not obtain or seek to obtain a license to use the composition in any fashion — nor did anyone from the list of defendants, which includes Universal Music, E.P.H.C.Y. Publishing, and label Stones Throw Records.

Donuts was rereleased as a box set in 2013 and on cassettes in 2014. The complaint claims that, before Music Sales Corp teamed up with Man-Ken, the plaintiff’s predecessor informed all three defendants of the infringement concerns in or around 2014. Despite this information, though, Stones Throw released a 10th-anniversary edition of Donuts in 2016.

Music Sales Corp says it is entitled to compensatory damages for the “deliberate, willful, malicious, oppressive” action — as well as the profits earned by defendants for at least the last three years, and it seeks compensation to cover attorneys’ fees and other costs related to the suit.

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