Complaining Work

Defending Work

Martel Ellis

"Danger"

Hear Sound Recording

Wyclef Jean

"Welcome to the East"

Hear Sound Recording

Comment

According to the complaint (copy linked below) singer Wyclef Jean, prior to recording “Welcome to the East,” solicited the plaintiff for a license of Jean’s use of a portion of plaintiff’s song “Danger”. The plaintiff, the complaint states, hoped to capitalize on the potential for career advancement by a more direct association with the pop star than that proposed by the Wyclef Jean, refused to license the use of his song unless Jean agreed to his active participation in the creation and recording of Jean’s song. The complaint also alleges that, despite the fact that the parties never came to terms on the license, Wyclef Jean, unbidden, sent money to the plaintiff after Jean’s song was released.

These allegations, if true, would obviously suggest that Wyclef Jean had concerns about the legality of his use of the plaintiff’s work. Query, however, whether the repetitive use in Jean’s song of the little nonsensical refrain “When the East is in the house – Oh my God” from plaintiff’s song constitutes misappropriation of protected material or rather fair use of a minimal portion of a well-known work as part of a conjuring of the chaotic sound of the eponymous carnival (perhaps one in Port-au-Prince) of Wyclef Jean’s album.

The complaint makes grandiose claims about the plaintiff’s song, calling it a “hip-hop anthem” whose “mark on hip-hop history is indelible.” If these assertions are true, however, they could strengthen Wyclef Jean’s fair use defense that his quoting a snippet of the plaintiff’s work was simply a means of evoking an era or milieu with which the plaintiff’s song was, apparently, “indelibly” associated.

Ellis v. Jean, Complaint

[ Back to Top ]