The New Zealand copyright infringement trial pitting Detroit rapper Eminem’s camp against that country’s conservative ruling party came to a close Friday.
Wellington High Court Judge Helen Cull may not issue a ruling for up to three months in the case, which based on clips from the hearing posted by New Zealand media outlets, featured profanity-laced rap music, some nearly surreal testimony and more than a few giggles.
Legal spats between musicians and politicians are old hat in the United States, but the two-week copyright infringement trial in the suit brought by Eminem’s music publishers Eight Mile Style may be the first of its kind abroad. That’s according to Robert Jacobs, a Los Angeles litigation partner at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips and a specialist in international copyright who’s been following the case.
“Most such claims in the U.S. have gone well for the artists who brought them,” said Jacobs. “However, unlike the U.S. matters, which almost always involved uses of the artist’s actual records, this involves a sound-alike recording.”
The trial centered on the National Party’s use of the song “Eminem Esque” in a 2014 television campaign ad that was run 186 times before it was pulled off the air. Eminem’s publishers say it’s simply a rip-off of the rapper’s hit 2002 song “Lose Yourself.”
The party’s lead defense attorney, Greg Arthur, said in his opening remarks that the song in the National Party ads “was inspired by the rapper’s hit but is different,” according to news clips. Arthur went on to explain that “sound alike” songs were created specifically to avoid copyright issues
It is a very fine line between Eminem’s music and that which is simply “Eminem Esque.” Riffs and segments from songs like Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” and the Beatles’ “Twist and Shout” were played to help point up the differences, and news clips showed several attorneys’ heads bobbing to the tunes.
Cuts to the stoic faces of the judge and gowned attorneys while listening to the rapper’s profane lyrics provided comic fodder for HBO’s “Last Week Tonight” host John Oliver, who first poked fun at the trial on his show when it was announced in 2015.
Garry Williams, attorney for Eight Mile Style, told the court in Thursday’s closing arguments that the political party knew it was infringing on a copyright in using the music was “utterly clear.”
The music publishers are seeking a public acknowledgment from the court that their copyrights were violated and a cash settlement.