FAIRFIELD COUNTY, SC (WCSC) - Kanye West is at the center of a lawsuit filed in Charleston federal court.
The musician is accused of using a South Carolina girl’s passionate prayer in his Grammy-nominated song, “Ultralight Beam,” without proper permission and without payment.
On Jan. 20, 2016, Andreia Green and a young girl were traveling to Atlanta with Alice Johnson, the child’s biological mother. The child decided to pray over Green to seek good fortune for the trip, according to the suit.
Johnson recorded the moment and uploaded the video to Instagram, which then went viral, according to the suit.
Two weeks later, one of West’s representatives contacted Johnson to request permission to use the audio from the Instagram video as samples in the song. Johnson verbally agreed to allow West to use the samples in exchange for payment, the suit stated.
The audio is woven into the opening 28 seconds of the song featured on the album The Life of Pablo, the lawsuit claims, and also used periodically throughout.
“This is just a matter of fairness," said North Charleston attorney Jason Luck who is leading this copyright infringement case. “Obviously, Mr. West has received his benefit from this, and I think all my clients are looking for is just a fair shake.”
Luck said this complaint isn’t about the famous defendant involved, but the clients who need their rights protected.
The complaint also alleges the young girl’s biological mother, Johnson, did not have the authority to enter into a licensing agreement with West’s representatives because she wasn’t the girl’s legal guardian and also did not have permission from Green to contract on her behalf.
“When you create your piece of art, whether it be your song you recorded or a painting you’ve painted...once you’ve created that, you have a copyright in it," Luck said. "But the copyright isn’t really protectable [sic] until it’s registered.”
The prayer performance was registered as a copyright in April 2016, just months after it was first published. Luck calls it a smart move that could benefit other performers.
“You’re going to see more issues like this, partly because there’s just more content out there," Luck said. “Just about any one of us can video ourselves singing or dancing and, you know, go viral, become something of a cultural phenomenon. If you protect that early on, you can possibly be able to profit from your performance and the use of your likeness.”
Kanye West and his representatives have not responded for comment on the lawsuit.
The plaintiffs are seeking actual damages and payment for the value of the samples.