Music

Childish Gambino Wins Appeals Court Ruling Ending Lawsuit That Claimed He Stole ‘This Is America’

A federal appeals court has rejected a lawsuit accusing Donald Glover of ripping off his chart-topping Childish Gambino hit “This Is America” from an earlier song.

In a ruling Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld a judge’s decision last year dismissing the lawsuit, which claimed that Glover’s 2018 song was “practically identical” to a 2016 track called “Made In America” by a rapper named Kidd Wes.

The earlier ruling said Glover had done nothing wrong because the two songs were “entirely different.” But in Friday’s decision, the appeals court rejected the case for even simpler reasons: that Wes (Emelike Nwosuocha) had failed to secure the proper copyrights on his track.

“Nwosuocha’s problem is that his copyright registration is simply for the wrong work,” the appeals court wrote. “That distinction is important.”

Released in 2018, “This Is America” spent two weeks atop the Hot 100 and eventually won record of the year and song of the year at the 61st Annual Grammy Awards. It was accompanied by a critically acclaimed music video, directed by Hiro Murai, that touched on issues of race, mass shootings and police violence.

Nwosuocha sued in May 2021, claiming there were “unmissable” similarities between the song and his own “Made In America,” including the “flow” — the cadence, rhyming schemes, rhythm and other characteristics of hip hop lyrics. But in March 2023 ruling, Judge Victor Marrero sharply disagreed with the lawsuit’s allegations.

“A cursory comparison with the challenged composition reveals that the content of the choruses is entirely different and not substantially similar,” the judge wrote. “More could be said on the ways these songs differ, but no more airtime is needed to resolve this case.”

Nwosuocha appealed that ruling, seeking to revive his lawsuit against Glover. But in rejecting that appeal on Friday, the Second Circuit ruled that it didn’t even need to decide whether the songs were similar. Instead, it said the case also failed because Nwosuocha had secured a federal copyright registration only for the recording of the song, not for the underlying composition that he claimed Glover had copied.

“The distinction between a sound recording and a musical work is not just an administrative classification,” the judge wrote. “That statutory distinction is important because sound recordings and musical works are different artistic works that can be copyrighted by different creators and are infringed in different ways.”

Barring an unlikely trip to the U.S. Supreme Court, Friday’s ruling will permanently end Nwosuocha’s lawsuit against Glover. Neither side immediately returned a request for comment on Tuesday.

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