Travis Scott Sued for Copyright Infringement for Song, “Highest in the Room”
On June 9, 2020 a group of producers and musicians filed a complaint for copyright infringement with the federal court in California claiming Travis Scott’s Highest in the Room copied their musical composition. The plaintiffs have hired Richard S. Busch, who is known for his representation in many high-profile copyright infringement cases. Notably, in 2018, Busch successfully represented the Marvin Gaye Estate against Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke for infringing the song Got to Give It Up in their hit Blurred Lines. The lengthy 37-page complaint not only names Travis Scott (Jacques Webster) as a defendant, but also large production companies, including Sony Music Entertainment, Grand Hustle, Cactus Jack Records, and Papa George Music. The plaintiffs claim Scott and the other defendants did exactly what they boast about in the infringing song which says, “fill my mind up with ideas” and “we are gonna stay on top and break the rules.”
In late 2018, one of the plaintiffs and one of the defendants connected on Instagram and discussed collaborating. In January 2019, the plaintiffs claim they wrote and recorded the original work, Cartier. They emailed the work to over a hundred producers and artists with the hope of licensing it and future collaborations. The plaintiff shared and saved three videos of the original work on his Instagram stories. The plaintiff directly emailed the original work to one of the defendants, exchanged many Instagram direct messages to the same defendant, and defendants viewed his Instagram stories. In October 2019, the defendants released the single Highest in the Room, and it immediately went to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The Highest in the Room music video on YouTube now has over 257 million views, the single has been licensed and featured in advertisements, and has been performed by Scott around the world. The infringed work is believed to have generated over 20 million dollars, and the plaintiffs would like to receive revenue and profit from various royalties, sales, and licenses that are attributable to their original work.
As set forth in the complaint, the plaintiffs claim the defendants violated the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. by infringing their registered copyrighted work, Cartier. Plaintiffs have the exclusive right to the work they authored, and defendants failed to receive permission before using the work. An ordinary listener and a comparison of the musical elements reveals that the infringed work and the original work are substantially similar. Additionally, the defendants knowingly infringed plaintiffs work and willfully continued to use the infringing work.
In a matter of opinion, the outcome of this case will be interesting to watch. Many artists who publicly share their work on social media and the internet may want to pay attention. As these platforms continue to innovate and grow, it becomes increasingly simpler to share and gain exposure for both major artists and those looking for their big break. Artists may learn from this case how they can protect their work and navigate these uncharted waters.