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Reggaeton Copyright Infringement Lawsuit Aimed At Over 100 Of The Genre’s Most Notable Artists Is Going Forward

Cleveland 'Clevie' Browne (right) with late production partner Wycliffe 'Steely' Johnson. (Photo: Clevie Facebook)

As reported by Variety, a federal judge has rejected the request to dismiss a significant copyright lawsuit aimed at over 1,000 reggaeton songs, including tracks from artists such as Bad Bunny and J Balvin.

The allegations state that these artists and others were involved in the unauthorized use of the rhythmic elements from "Fish Market," a song released in 1989 by Jamaican producers Cleveland “Clevie” Browne and the late Wycliffe “Steely” Johnson. The lawsuit consolidates multiple individual claims against reggaeton artists, from emerging talents like Danny Ocean to established figures like Daddy Yankee, Zion y Lennox, and others, filed by Browne and the Johnson estate.

According to the filing, the artists are accused of infringing on the drum pattern of "Fish Market," which comprises of "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 emphasizes that this combination is "original to Mr. Browne and Mr. Johnson and was groundbreaking upon its creation," and points out several instances where the pattern was used by popular artists without crediting Browne and Johnson.

The complaint details the timeline of how "Fish Market" gained popularity and ultimately influenced the reggaeton genre. Notably, Jamaican star Shabba Ranks further popularized the beat in his 1990 track "Dem Bow," which led to the establishment of the beat's name and its impact on the genre.

Several of the implicated artists have sought the dismissal of the case. For instance, Bad Bunny’s legal team argued that the lawsuit sought to "monopolize practically the entire reggaeton musical genre," as reported by Billboard.

However, in a recent ruling, U.S. District Judge André Birotte Jr. declined the majority of the requests to dismiss the merged lawsuit, citing that the 228-page complaint fulfilled its procedural requirements.

"The court is not prepared at this stage to analyze 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 stated, according to Courthouse News.

The case will now proceed to the discovery phase, where both parties will exchange evidence, conduct depositions, and seek testimonies.

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