Noted 70’s soul man Lee Hutson, former lead singer of the famed vocal group The Impressions, after Curtis Mayfield, as well as a successful solo artist, has won Round One of his multimillion dollar copyright infringement lawsuit action against Bad Boy Entertainment, the estate of the late Notorious B.I.G. (aka Biggie Smalls) and music producer Easy Mo Bee, for the unauthorized use of a sample on Biggie’s 1994 hit “The What,” from his multi-platinum debut album, “Ready To Die.” That song utilizes a sample from Hutson’s 1973 song “Can’t Say Enough About Mom,” as admitted under oath by its producer, Easy Mo Bee (Osten Harvey Jr.), who acknowledged that he did not have permission, but that he informed Bad Boy that he had used it.
Hutson reached out to Diddy, owner of Bad Boy Entertainment, to resolve the matter amicably in 2012 when it was brought to his attention, but received no response. On the contrary, with the knowledge that Hutson was seeking remedy for the unauthorized use of the song sample, Staci Riordan of Fox Rothschild, lawyers for the estate of Biggie Smalls and the other co-defendants, responded in early 2014 by attempting a preemptive legal strike in a California court against Hutson, challenging his right to pursue legal action regarding “The What,” alleging, among other jurisdictional claims, that the sample used in the song is short, adapted and supplemented. Additionally, the Smalls estate’s attorneys openly acknowledged the use of portions of Hutson’s song in “The What,” but argued that it was a non-infringing use.
Upon this challenge, however, two business days later, Mr. Hutson formally filed his lawsuit for copyright infringement in a New York court, along with filing a Motion to Dismiss or Transfer the preemptive legal action previously filed by the Smalls estate in California. This New York case was stayed, pending a resolution of Hutson’s Motion to Dismiss the California case.
The outcome of Hutson’s Motion to Dismiss was a victory for the talented soul man. A California judge granted his motion, dismissing the case brought by the Smalls estate in its entirety. With the challenge by the Biggie Smalls estate now nonexistent, Hutson’s copyright infringement lawsuit is now moving forward within the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, in Manhattan. He is being represented in the matter by attorneys Alan Clarke, Kendall Minter, Joseph Porter III (CA) and Anthony Motta/Motta & Krents (NY).
It remains to be seen what the final result of Hutson’s lawsuit will be, but one thing is becoming increasingly sure within the music business – you should not utilize music that is not yours, if you do not have permission to do so – no one can legally claim to “re-create” that which has already been created by someone else.