On February 15, 2007 a lawsuit was filed in Norfolk, VA at the Eastern District of Virginia Federal Court by VA rapper Face Dirty a.k.a. Christopher Chapman and his attorney Duncan Byers. After allowing ample time for Universal and Fat Joe to respond to the allegations, Chapman and his attorney decided enough was enough.
Chapman is suing Universal/Motown Records for “gross, wrongful, and willful access” through [former] A&R Antwon Barnes and copyright infringement in regards to the label and Fat Joe/Terror Squad.
“Universal/Motown Records can not hide behind their representative. These record labels know the reputation of these A&Rs before they hire them,” Byers said.
The question of winning or losing this case rests on the ability to prove access to Chapman’s material and the copying of the material. Byers admitted he was told directly by industry execs that Fat Joe doesn’t write any of his own material, it is handed to him. “He is the face man.” Chapman and Byers have physical proof of access so they only need show “common elements” of the two versions.
“Once you strip away certain structural elements used in rap music such as the rhythm and beats the core element is the same.” In this case the core element being the intent behind “Lean Back”, not only the expression lean back, but the dance as well.
The complaint seeks back royalties and future royalties from the song “Lean Back,” punitive damages, court costs, attorney fees, and all rights to “Lean Back.” Under federal statute, the attorney fees are recoverable on the basis of the copyright suit itself.
Universal/Motown Records and Fat Joe/Terror Squad are being subpoenaed by the U.S. Marshals, but a few “procedural” issues are being addressed.
The VA court in which the suit has been filed is known for having “Rocket Dockets,” meaning they process civil cases faster than any other courts in VA and they don’t grant motions. The case is assigned to Judge Jerome B. Friedman, but is not assigned a court date as of yet. Generally, it takes anywhere from six to eight months from the date a suit is filed to grant a court date. Chapman is looking at a timeline between August and October of this year if there is no settlement made before the court date.
“If they’re dumb enough to do me the good service of going to court, damn right I’m going to win,” Chapman says.
At this point Universal and Fat Joe have very few options. A couple of options are to settle out of court to avoid a trial or to battle this out in court that would turn into a media circus.
According to Byers, “I don’t think Chris is even willing to settle at this point. He has been dragged through the mud and tossed to the side by these industry executives.”
If this goes to court than all parties tied to the production and creative control of “Lean Back” will have to appear in court. Just to give an idea of the people that would have to appear in court- Fat Joe, Scott Storch, Remy, Lil Jon, and Eminem to name a few. The courtroom would turn into a star-studded event.
To recap; in 2005 a story broke regarding VA rapper, Christopher Chapman a.k.a. Face Dirty, alleging that Fat Joe stole “Lean Back.” At the time Universal along with Fat Joe’s camp denied all allegations and basically dismissed the claims.
To give a little more background to the story, Chapman became acquainted with Antwon Barnes after he was given Barnes’ telephone number by a VA music manager with ties to Universal/Motown A&Rs.
Chapman and Barnes conversed on the phone over a period of roughly four months during which time Barnes solicited and showed interest in Chapman’s music. Barnes began to dodge Chapman‘s calls and eventually told Chapman that Universal was no longer interested in him as an artist and to “rethink ‘Lean Back’” because Fat Joe was coming out with a “summer banga” with the same name. Universal confirms receiving a package from Chapman, but denies that Barnes’ opened it. Ironically, it turned up that they did not have a submission from him.
“They’re pulling the White House, ‘We lost the emails’ defense,” states Byers. “I don’t believe in that many coincidences.”
A couple of months later, “Lean Back” is a hit and Fat Joe reaps all the benefits. Chapman began to play the game of cat and mouse with the label, Barnes, and Fat Joe. Chapman was tired of the games, hired an attorney and so the drama began.
After more then two years Face Dirty is frustrated with the process. He claims that he has missed out on deals with Columbia Records, TVT, and Warner Bros. By signing with another label he would have to dismiss the whole “Lean Back” case and according to him, “it’s about principles.” Chapman also said, “Don Cartagena ain’t real; he ain’t gangsta.”
The question remains, did it really “take a down south brotha to bring ya boy back?”
Very few cases have dealt with rap music and copyright infringement to this exact. If Chapman were to win it would a new legal precedent.
“It is no doubt in my mind that the jury will do the right thing. It’s so common that it is painful for young starving artist to have their material stolen because these major labels can get away with it. Sorry to say, but it’s time for these music industry execs to face the music.”
Hopefully it will not take another two years to find out.