A three-year-old copyright infringement lawsuit brought by composer Jack Urbont against rapper Ghostface Killah has taken an unusual turn with a New York judge entering a default judgment in favor of the plaintiff. As a result, the case might now be set to explore an issue that should draw tremendous interest in the music industry.
In his Hollywood career, Urbont created music for many television shows including That 70’s Show, Oprah, 20/20, The View and, of significance in this case, the 1960s television show The Marvel Super Heroes. According to Urbont’s 2011 lawsuit, Ghostface Killah (real name: Dennis Coles) sampled the “Iron Man Theme” on two tracks of the rapper’s second album, Supreme Clientele.
Why the case has taken so long can partly be explained by the difficulty of serving Ghostface with the complaint. One was delivered to his business manager, but even a private investigator couldn’t locate the hip-hop star to give him an amended complaint. Eventually, the judge permitted Urbont to serve Coles via a publication notice.
But that didn’t end the procedural difficulties.
Right before discovery was expected to close, the lawyer for Ghostface requested permission to withdraw from the case on the grounds he hadn’t been paid and that his client refused to communicate with him.
The judge granted the motion, but gave Ghostface a deadline to find a new attorney.
Then, Ghostface failed to show up for a deposition, which led to a warning from the judge about sanctions and a default judgment. In recent months, it appears as though Ghostface has gone AWOL, not responding to attempts to reschedule a deposition, according to Urbont’s attorney.
As a result, Urbont sought a default judgment as well as fees and expenses, and on Thursday, was granted the motion by U.S. District Judge Naomi Buchwald.
“We obviously are pleased with the court’s decision and believe it to be correct and just,” says Urbont’s attorney Richard Busch. “As far as Mr. Coles (Ghostface) is concerned, we will now submit evidence on damages to establish actual and statutory damages for willful infringement of Mr Urbont’s composition, and to establish our entitlement to actual and punitive damages for the willful infringement of Mr. Urbont’s sound recording. The default judgment does not apply to Sony, so the claims against Sony remain to be litigated.”
Of note is Busch’s word that he will be pursuing punitive damages for the willful infringement of the sound recording. The statutory damages for the composition won’t amount to more than $150,000, but Urbont’s claim on the sound recording is tied to a pre-1972 work, which is protected by state law, and as seen in recent cases against SiriusXM, has suddenly become a hot legal topic. Now, thanks to the fact that a default judgment has been entered, the Urbont case will now figure out what damages are owed for misappropriating a pre-1972 sound recording.
If Urbont gets a big figure, it’s a good possibility that he will attempt to collect by seeking a lien on Ghostface’s share of Wu-Tang Clan royalties.
Ghostface couldn’t be reached for comment, but he did offer this colorful comment in 2012 about who he believed was suing him: “I think it’s an old man. I think they woke this dude up or something. He ain’t Stan Lee or anything but I guess he’s somebody because he ain’t stopping. It’s like, [why] you coming to me? Go to Sony man, don’t come at me. But that’s what it is. This, this is the game, man. Everybody out for they bread, whatever they could see, they tryna get it.”