This copyright infringement case involved plaintiff's allegation that defendants' use of the word "oh" in an audio recording and music video infringed plaintiff's copyrights in a composition and recording in which "oh" appears once.
The allegedly infringed works were a composition called Hook & Sling Part I and a performance of that composition by Eddie Bo and the Soul Finders. The allegedly infringing works were an audio recording entitled Run This Town and a music video with the same title featuring Jay-Z, Rihanna, and Kanye West.
On defendants' motion to dismiss, the court accepted the parties' assumptions on two points--that plaintiff had valid copyrights in the works at issue and that defendants had sampled the word "oh" and used it in the accused works. Resolution of the motion therefore came down to whether there was a substantial similarity between the works.
Although the court expressed skepticism as to whether the word "oh" was, standing alone, deserving of copyright protection, it ultimately declined to reach the issue because it decided the motion on the question of substantial similarity or, more specifically, the quantitative and qualitative significance of the allegedly copied element to plaintiff's works.
Turning to the latter question, the court found that the word "oh" was neither quantitatively nor qualitatively significant to the allegedly infringed works.
As to quantitative significance, the court noted that the allegedly sampled portion--the word "oh"--constituted only a fraction of a second. The court thus had no difficulty concluding that the "word 'oh' has essentially no quantitative significance" to plaintiff's works.
The court also concluded that "oh" was not qualitatively significant to plaintiff's works:
The word in question -- "oh" -- is quite common. It appears only once, if it appears at all, in the introductory lyrics to [the composition]. There is nothing inherently or especially important about "oh" to the message conveyed by, or the theme presented in, the [c]omposition.
Similarly, Eddie Bo vocalizes "oh" only once, in the introduction to his rendition of [the composition]. His vocalization of the word is not accompanied by music and lasts no more than a fraction of a second. . . . [T]he Court holds that the Master would not have suffered if "oh" had been replaced by any of a host of monosyllabic or duosyllabic utterances. Indeed, "oh" could have been omitted entirely without altering the essence of [the allegedly infringed works].
The court therefore granted defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiff's copyright infringement claims.
The case cite is Tufamerica, Inc. v. WB Music Corp., Case No. 13-cv-7874 (LAK) (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 8, 2014).