A New York City judge has dismissed a lawsuit against Warner Chappell Music, rapper Jay-Z, producer Timbaland and singer Ginuwine over allegations of copyright infringement on the tracks Paper Chase and Toe 2 Toe.
The lawsuit was brought by soul musician Ernie Hines, who alleged 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). Both tracks were produced and co-written by Timbaland.
In his ruling issued Monday (September 25), Judge Paul Oetken of the US District Court for the Southern District of New York concluded that the part of Hines’ song that the 1990s songs allegedly copied “is not protected under copyright.”
At issue in the case was a six-second introduction to Help Me Put Out The Flame, which Hines alleged was used in both Paper Chase and Toe 2 Toe.
However, the court agreed with musical experts who said that this introduction was a barely-altered version of Mysterioso Pizzicato, a musical number from 1914 that was commonly used as accompaniment in silent movies of the era, and has been dubbed “the movie villain’s theme.”
Because that piece of music is available in the public domain, and because Hines’ intro only slightly alters that work, Judge Oetker ruled that this part of Hines’ work cannot be protected by copyright.
Hines’ intro “adds only material that is not original 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 2021 precedent-setting case (Clinton v. UMG Recordings).
The judge also agreed with defendants’ claim that “Hines cannot establish 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,” Judge Oetker concluded.
Paper Chase was originally released in 1998 and appeared on Jay-Z’s third studio album, Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life. Toe 2 Toe was released in 1999 and appeared on Ginuwine’s second studio album, 100% Ginuwine.
Neither track was a particularly large hit, with Toe 2 Toe garnering around 285,000 streams on Spotify as of last count, while Paper Chase has garnered 1.7 million streams, compared to hundreds of millions for Jay-Z’s more popular tracks.
Hines originally filed his lawsuit in 2019, explaining that it took him two decades to file a claim because he doesn’t listen to hip-hop, and only heard Paper Chase and Toe 2 Toe in 2018.
The original complaint indicated that Hines was looking for at least USD $2 million in compensation for the alleged infringement.