Massive Copyright Lawsuit Over 1000 Reggaeton Songs Moves Forward

A federal judge has denied the motion to dismiss a massive copyright lawsuit targeting over a 1,000 reggaeton songs from such globally recognized acts as Bad Bunny and J Balvin.

The allegations claim these acts and more participated in the illegal infringement of the instrumental percussion for “Fish Market,” a song released in 1989 by Jamaican producers Cleveland “Clevie” Browne and the late Wycliffe “Steely” Johnson. The case consolidates numerous individual lawsuits against reggaeton artists — ranging from rising acts like Danny Ocean to legacy artists Daddy Yankee, Zion y Lennox and more — brought by Browne and the Johnson estate.

They allege these artists actively infringed on the drum pattern of “Fish Market,” described in the filing as “a programmed kick, snare, and hi-hat playing a one bar pattern; percussion instruments, including a tambourine playing through the entire bar, a synthesized ‘tom’ playing on beats one and three, and timbales that play a roll at the end of every second bar and free improvisation over the pattern for the duration of the song; and a synthesized Bb (b-flat) bass note on beats one and three of each bar, which follows the aforementioned synthesized ‘tom’ pattern.”

The original, 228-page filing states this combination is “original to Mr. Browne and Mr. Johnson and was groundbreaking upon its creation.” It goes on to list numerous instances where the pattern was used by popular artists without crediting Browne and Johnson.

Getting into the weeds, the complaint follows a timeline in which Browne and Johnson’s “Fish Market” was further popularized by Jamaican star Shabba Ranks for his 1990 track “Dem Bow,” leading to the creation of the beat’s moniker and the genre overall.

Many of the artists named in the filing have demanded the case be dismissed. Bad Bunny’s lawyers pushed back on the case stating it was actively seeking to “monopolize practically the entire reggaeton musical genre,” according to a report published by Billboard.

But in Wednesday’s decision, U.S. District Judge André Birotte Jr. denied almost all of the motions to dismiss the consolidated lawsuit on the basis that the 228-page complaint achieved its procedural requirements.

“The court is unprepared at this stage to examine the history of the reggaeton and dancehall genres and dissect the genres’ features to determine whether the elements common between the allegedly infringing works and the subject works are commonplace, and thus unprotectable, as a matter of law,” Judge Birotte said, per Court House News.

The case will now undergo the discovery process, where both sides will exchange evidence, take depositions and seek testimonials.

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