On May 4, 2017, Golden Crown Publishing, LLC, the publishing company behind Freddie GZ’s song Turn Down for What, sued Lil Jon and DJ Snake in the Southern District of New York, alleging that their hit song by the same name infringes on Golden Crown’s copyright. The plaintiff is seeking monetary damages and a permanent injunction.

A copyright in a musical work protects original, creative expression based on the sheet music filed with the copyright office. In order to prove that the defendant infringed the work, the plaintiff must show “access” and “substantial similarity.”[1] Access can be inferred if the plaintiff shows that the works are “strikingly similar,” achievable only by copying.[2]

According to the complaint, in March 2013, Freddie GZ, with his collective known as the Architectz, released their song Turn Down for What, named after a phrase they coined based on the idiom “turn up.” After the song was released, prominent hip-hop DJ Charlamagne Tha God and Killer Mike of Run the Jewels both tweeted, using the phrase “turn down for what.” The complaint alleges other facts regarding the song’s reach, the success of Freddie GZ’s biggest release, “Quagmire,” and Freddie GZ’s concerts in Atlanta, Lil Jon’s hometown. In July 2013, Lil Jon and DJ Snake also tweeted using the phrase “turn down for what.” In December 2013, Lil Jon and DJ Snake released their Turn Down for What, which eventually hit number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and has had over 670 million views on YouTube.

The complaint points out the alleged “striking similarities,” including the lyrical hook, the rhythm and the instrumental hook. Golden Crown further alleges that the defendants have monetized the song by filing a trademark for the phrase “turn down for what” and including it on merchandise.

The suit was filed by Richard Busch of King & Ballow, and Elliot Schnapp of Gordon, Gordon & Schnapp, P.C. Mr. Busch recently represented Marvin Gaye’s family in the action involving the song Blurred Lines, which resulted in a $5.3 million verdict against Robin Thicke, Pharrell Williams and T.I. for infringing Marvin Gaye’s Got to Give It Up. That case is currently on appeal in the Ninth Circuit, but it looks like it may be providing a road map for plaintiffs alleging infringement of musical works.

[1] See, e.g., Repp v. Webber, 132 F.3d 882, 889 (2d Cir. 1997).

[2] Id.