A three year old copyright infringement lawsuit brought by composer Jack Urbont
against rapper Ghostface Killah has taken an unusual turn with a New York judge
entering a default judgment in favor of the plaintiff. As a result, the case might now
be set to explore an issue that should draw tremendous interest in the music industry.
In his Hollywood career, Urbont created music for many television shows including
That 70's Show, Oprah, 20/20, The View, and of significance in this case, the 1960s
television show, The Marvel Super Heroes. According to Urbont's 2011 lawsuit, Ghostface
Killah (real name: Dennis Coles) sampled the "Iron Man Theme" on two tracks of the
rapper's second album, "Supreme Clientele."Why the case has taken so long can partly
be explained by the difficulty of serving Ghostface with the complaint. One was delivered
to his business manager, but even a private investigator couldn't locate the hip hop star
to give him an amended complaint. Eventually, the judge permitted Urbont to serve Coles
via a publication notice. But that didn't end the procedural difficulties.
Right before discovery was expected to close, the lawyer for Ghostface requested
permission to withdraw from the case on the grounds he hadn't been paid and that
his client refused to communicate with him. The judge granted the motion, but gave
Ghostface a deadline to find a new attorney. Then, Ghostface failed to show up for a
deposition, which led to a warning from the judge about sanctions and a default
judgment. In recent months, it appears as though Ghostface has gone AWOL, not
responding to attempts to reschedule a deposition, according to Urbont's attorney.
As a result, Urbont sought a default judgment as well as fees and expenses, and
was granted the motion by U.S. District Judge Naomi Buchwald.
"We obviously are pleased with the court's decision and believe it to be correct and
just," says Urbont's attorney Richard Busch. "As far as Mr. Coles (Ghostface) is
concerned, we will now submit evidence on damages to establish actual and statutory
damages for willful infringement of Mr Urbont's composition, and to establish our
entitlement to actual and punitive damages for the willful infringement of Mr. Urbont's
sound recording. The default judgment does not apply to Sony, so the claims against
Sony remain to be litigated."
Of note is Busch's word that he will be pursuing punitive damages for the willful
infringement of the sound recording. The statutory damages for the composition
won't amount to more than $150,000, but Urbont's claim on the sound recording is
tied to a pre-1972 work, which is protected by state law, and as seen in recent cases
against SiriusXM, has suddenly become a hot legal topic. Now, thanks to the fact that
a default judgment has been entered, the Urbont case will now figure out what damages
are owed for misappropriating a pre-1972 sound recording. If Urbont gets a big figure,
it's a good possibility that he will attempt to collect by seeking a lien on Ghostface's
share of Wu Tang Clan royalties.
Ghostface couldn't be reached for comment, but he did offer this colorful comment
in 2012 about who it was suing him: “I think it’s an old man. I think they woke this
dude up or something. He ain’t Stan Lee or anything but I guess he’s somebody
because he ain’t stopping. It’s like, [why] you coming to me? Go to Sony man, don’t
come at me. But that’s what it is. This, this is the game, man. Everybody out for they
bread, whatever they could see, they tryna get it.”