Music Lawsuit Frenzy: Jay-Z Latest to Settle Copyright Claim, Awards 50% Royalties to Swiss Musician

Charles Krupa/AP
Charles Krupa/AP

Jay-Z has settled a copyright claim brought against him by a Swiss musician who claimed the rapper lifted a sample from an original 1978 song and used it without the artist’s consent.

Bruno Spoerri, a 79-year-old Swiss jazz musician, will get 50% of royalties from Jay-Z’s 2013 song “Versus,” reports the Daily Mail. The rapper agreed to a settlement after a year and a half-long legal battle in which Spoerri claimed Jay-Z used a portion of his 1978 song “On the Way” without first clearing the sample with his record label. (Listen to both songs below).

“In a way I’m flattered that a relatively young rapper takes a sample from an old man, a sample that is about 35 years old,” Spoerri told last year. “On the other hand I’m furious because it would have been so simple to clear the sample. All it would have needed was a call or an email to the company and I think it would have been relatively cheap.”

The similarities were first noticed in September 2013 by an executive at Spoerri’s record label, the ironically titled Finders Keepers Records.

“I got a call from Andy Votel, the boss of Finders Keepers, who had just recognized the sample,” Spoerri told the Swiss news outlet. “He asked me to keep quiet because he wanted to talk to them first and see what happened.”

Spoerri has had a long, illustrious career in music, at one point serving as director of the Zurich Jazz Festival. The musician was reportedly one of the first in Switzerland to produce electronic music, and regularly composed jingles for television and film.

Spoerri told last year that he wanted an apology more than money, although a little money wouldn’t hurt either.

“I would like them to acknowledge what happened and say sorry,” Spoerri said at the time. “And then I think it would be fine if they would put my name on the piece and in the end I want to have a part of the money that comes in.”

Jay-Z’s settlement is the latest incident in a music industry awash in copyright lawsuits. Earlier this week, the estate of the late soul legend Marvin Gaye won a $7.3 million settlement against musicians Pharell Williams and Robin Thicke after a jury found that the pair had copied elements of Gaye’s “Got to Give it Up” for their 2013 hit “Blurred Lines.”

In January, Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne settled a copyright claim against UK megastar Sam Smith, in which they claimed that Smith’s “Stay With Me” was a rip-off of the duo’s “I Won’t Back Down.” Petty and Lynne were awarded songwriting credits and a percentage of the song’s royalties in that case.


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