Mary Ellen Roy, one of the attorneys who represents Beyonce Knowles-Carter in the Messy Mya copyright infringement lawsuit filed against her in February, has filed a Motion To Dismiss the case in a Louisiana District Court on April 14th.
The late Anthony Barre’s comedic alter ego, Messy Mya embodied the humor, tragedy and distinct flavor of New Orleans. His heavily watched viral Youtube clips served as funny social commentaries on his New Orleans neighborhood, relationships and the rampant violence in the city, which ultimately claimed his life in 2010. In one such clip, Mya spoke about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina on the city, pondering; “What happened at the New Orleans” in his thick crescent city drawl. The short but haunting audio was the perfect compliment when it was used in Beyonce’s “Formation” short film. The video spoke to the Black Lives Matter movement, the governmental response to Hurricane Katrina, the politics of black women’s hair, family history, and her own fractured relationship with the American South.
However, the estate of Messy Mya brought suit against Beyonce, the song’s producers and the director of the “Formation” music video in February. Angel Barré, Mya’s sister, and sole heir filed an Original Complaint alleging willful copyright infringement, false endorsement, unfair trade practices, and unjust enrichment. Angel Barre seeks royalties, damages and an order that Barre is credited as a writer, composer, producer and artist on the track. Essentially, Barre claims that Beyonce did not receive permission to use her late brother’s voice on the “Formation” video or track. The suit alleged $20 million dollars in damages.
Attorneys for Angel Barre further claimed in the lawsuit that Beyonce used Messy Mya’s “voice, performance and words from his copyrighted works to create the tone, mood, setting and location of” Beyonce’s videos. Specifically at issue are phrases from Messy Mya’s songs “Booking the Hoes from New Wildlings” and “A 27 Piece Huh?,” including:
- Messy Mya’s voice saying “What happened at the New Orleans?” and “B—- I’m back by popular demand” in the openings for both the audio and video recordings of “Formation.” Later in Beyonce’s song and video, Messy Mya’s voice can be heard saying “Oh yeah baby. I like that.”
- During the Formation World Tour, Messy Mya’s voice was heard saying “Oh yeah baby, I like that,” when Beyonce “and the other performers move from one area of the stage to another” about four minutes into the show, the suit said.
- Messy Mya’s words, “B—- I’m back by popular demand” were imitated by Big Freedia during the opening to performances of the Formation World Tour in New Orleans and Houston. In other cities on the tour, the words were imitated by male performers.
The lawsuit claimed Angel Barre attempted to reach out to the singer’s representatives in October 2016 to secure proper licensing, but they didn’t agree to any terms.
“(Messy Mya’s) estate has received nothing — no acknowledgement, no credit, no remuneration of any kind,” the lawsuit reads.
In substantiating the $20 million in damages claimed by Barre’s attorneys, the lawsuit said the proper crediting for Messy Mya would “not have only generated substantial revenues, but it would have generated international recognition for Anthony Barre’s performance works and as a contributor to a worldwide hit song.”
However, according to THR, Beyonce’s lawyer’s have hit back with a detailed Motion To Dismiss, requesting that the court throw out the lawsuit. Attorney Mary Ellen Roy does the heavy lifting in this document and makes a number of legal arguments. She argues that the heir has “grossly overstated” the use of Mya’s work in the “Formation” video and its subsequent use during Beyonce’s Super Bowl 50 performance. The Lousiana based attorney points out that the the music video used about 10 seconds of Mya’s voice throughout the track and a mere six seconds of his voice during Beyonce’s live performances.
The most interesting argument in the motion is that the clips fall within the protection of the “fair use” doctrine. In its most general sense, a “fair use” is any copying of copyrighted material done for a limited and “transformative” purpose, such as to comment upon, criticize, or parody a copyrighted work. Such uses can be done without permission from the copyright owner. In other words, fair use is a defense against a claim of copyright infringement. If the judge decides that the clip’s use qualifies as a fair use, then it would not be considered an infringement. However, Roy said that this is irrelevant because the music video producer licensed the work.
Roy asserts; “[W]hile beyond the scope of this motion, Pretty Bird licensed the YouTube Videos from Mr. Barré’s family before plaintiff Angel Barré had herself appointed as the administrator of the Estate of Anthony Barré weeks after the Music Video’s premiere — presumably for the purpose of bringing this action.”
The judge has taken the motion under consideration and will make a ruling on the motion in the upcoming days.