Lawyers for American rapper Marshall ‘Eminem’ Mathers recently called on Australian composer, writer, and radio presenter Dr Andrew Ford as an expert witness in the rapper’s ongoing intellectual property lawsuit against the New Zealand National Party.
Eminem’s Detroit-based music publishers Eight Mile Style allege that a song used in a 2014 campaign ad for the National Party copied the famous guitar riff and beat from Eminem’s Grammy- and Academy-Award winning track ‘Lose Yourself’. Though the National Party’s Steven Joyce claimed that the track was ‘pretty legal’, Eight Mile Style commenced an action for copyright infringement in 2014. The litigation went viral earlier this year when footage emerged of a stone-faced judge and nine lawyers listening to the iconic track being played in the Wellington High Court Room.
The National Party claim that their song, titled ‘Eminem Esque’, was purchased legally from a stock music site. However, this month laywers for Eminem’s publishers called video evidence from Australian music expert Dr Andrew Ford, who argued that ‘Eminem Esque’ was only original ‘in the same way that a group of monkeys could eventually type Hamlet.’
‘It is strikingly similar in all major features,’ said Dr Ford, who has previously given expert evidence in Larrikin Music’s successful claim against Men At Work for the latter’s unauthorised use of the children’s song ‘Kookaburra’ in the flute solo of their 1981 hit ‘Down Under’.
‘Not only do they sound similar, but when they are broken down into their different elements… it is clear they incorporate essential features of Lose Yourself’ said Dr Ford. He also suggested that the staid tone of voice used in the campaign ad’s voiceover mimicked the ‘reasonable voice’ used in Eminem’s initial rap verses.
Lawyer Garry Williams read excerpts from internal National Party emails, which acknowledged that the song was an ‘Eminem sound-alike’, and even contained a statement from the party’s agent that ‘I guess the question we’re asking, if everyone thinks it’s Eminem, and it’s listed as Eminem Esque, how can we be confident that Eminem doesn’t say we’re ripping him off?’
The High Court has also heard evidence from musician and producer Jeff Bass, who co-wrote ‘Lose Yourself’ and played the iconic riff before the court on an acoustic guitar. Bass described the National Party track as a ‘blatant ripoff’, and said that he had refused all previous inquiries about using the song in political advertisements, because ‘[w]e don’t want to risk damaging the integrity of Lose Yourself through its association with politics’.
Litigation is ongoing before Justice Helen Cull of the New Zealand High Court in Wellington.