Everything we know so far about emPawa Africa’s ongoing copyright issues with Bad Bunny & Rimas Music
"emPawa Africa is deeply concerned by Rimas’ deflection."
"emPawa Africa is deeply concerned by Rimas’ deflection."
On February 6, 2023, Nigerian singer and emPawa Africa founder Mr Eazi took to his Twitter and LinkedIn accounts to call out Puerto Rican artist Bad Bunny and his label Rimas Music (Rimas Entertainment), citing copyright infringement on the Puerto Rican artist’s song, “Enséñame a Bailar.” This was hours after Bad Bunny became the first all-Spanish opening act at the 65th GRAMMY Awards and his blockbuster 2022 album ‘Un Verano Sin Ti’ won the Grammy for Best Música Urbana Album. According to Mr Eazi, in his call-out earlier in the month, both parties had been trying to resolve this issue amicably since May 2022 with their legal teams, however, Eazi stated that “the intent of Rimas Music is clearly to blatantly appropriate young African creators’ work for their gain without attribution.”
As can be heard on “Enséñame a Bailar,” Bad Bunny takes sonic cues and heavily interpolates melodies from “Empty My Pocket,” the song performed by Nigerian singer Joeboy, produced by Nigerian producer Dëra and distributed by Lakizo Entertainment. (Interestingly, “Empty My Pocket” has been taken off streaming platforms for copyright issues while Bad Bunny’s song remains intact. You can listen to it via YouTube search.) In addition to utilising Dëra’s composition throughout, “Enséñame a Bailar” also samples Joeboy’s vocals in its coda. Yet when Bad Bunny shared his album ‘Un Verano Sin Ti’ in May 2022, no credit was given to Joeboy and Dëra, and no clearance was sought from emPawa Africa, which is both Joeboy’s record label and publisher.
According to an official statement from emPawa Africa, emPawa Publishing and Kobalt placed the publishing on “Enséñame a Bailar” in dispute, which means that all payouts on publishing revenue from the track will be halted until the dispute is resolved. Furthermore, emPawa Africa ordered a takedown of the record from digital service providers as soon as possible. Rimas Music refuted emPawa Africa’s claims in a statement, writing that it “acted properly and followed standard industry protocols.” Rimas says it purchased the master track from Lakizo Entertainment, who is listed as the track’s creator and owner in numerous public sources. It also stated that, regarding the song’s composition, emPawa has also failed to forward documents to prove that they are authorised to act on the writers’ behalf.
“This is categorically untrue,” emPawa Africa shared in their latest statement. “emPawa Africa is deeply concerned by Rimas’ deflection from its failure to secure any publishing clearance from, and provide any songwriter credit to, the actual creators of “Empty My Pocket,” Joeboy and producer Dëra, whose respective vocals and composition are clearly heard on the song.” emPawa Africa also denied Rimas Music’s assertions that Lakizo Entertainment is the sole creator and owner of “Empty My Pocket,” as Lakizo Entertainment only served as a licensed distributor. “In assuming this role, Adesina Lekan (dba Lakizo Entertainment) negotiated the rights to a partial share in the writing and production credit, as well as a partial share in the master. In actuality, Lakizo Entertainment’s only creative contribution to the 2021 master recording of “Empty My Pocket” was adding its “It’s Lakizo, baby” tag at 0:07,” the statement read.
The statement goes further to say that “no one should confuse Rimas’ alleged payment to Lakizo Entertainment for the master with a publishing clearance. Nor should they confuse emPawa Africa’s request for composer credit, publishing and royalties for Joeboy and Dëra with a request for the sort of upfront payment Rimas Music states that it made to Lakizo Entertainment. emPawa Africa has made it clear that it has never asked for any cash compensation, only respect for Joeboy and Dëra’s intellectual property.”
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Whether we’re fans of sampling or not, the simple fact remains that it has existed in the music industry for time immemorial. Contrary to what many music listeners think, musical creativity doesn’t emanate from thin air. In fact, the hallmark of some of the most creative artists is the ability to let their influences feed their imaginations and repurpose this for newer audiences. As a way of explicitly paying homage to influences, sampling in music is a legitimate form of creativity and involves taking from the past—whether immediate or further back—and flipping the elements so that they fit into a modern context.
Today, the internet seems to have collapsed our linear time clock, making the music of decades ago as easily accessible as the music of today. However, the process is not that straightforward. Music is intellectual property which accrues rights and certain entitlements for its owner. As such, if you’re including a sample of an older song in your track, you need authorisation from the respective parties to release that song. Dammy Sanya, a Nigerian music and entertainment lawyer who is conversant on the law in this area, shares that “If no agreement was reached between the two parties, the next step would be to request for takedown by DSPs.”
For example, in 2009, Cameroonian singer Manu Dibango filed a lawsuit against Rihanna and Micheal Jackson, claiming that both artists sampled his 1972 song “Soul Makossa,” without seeking the appropriate permission. According to reports, Michael Jackson had already admitted to sampling the track, choosing to settle with Dibango out of court, however, when Rihanna went on to sample Jackson’s “Got To Be The Start of Something,” she had failed to obtain permission from the song’s initial creator. While Dibango was not necessarily wrong, the court case failed because the singer already successfully applied for a writer’s credit on Rihanna’s hit in 2008, with the presiding court deciding this ruled him out of any further claims on the track.
However, when looking at the peculiarities of this current case, no accurate credits or publishing was carried out by the Rimas Music team nor their client. “Unfortunately this is part of a broader pattern we see in how the wider music industry approaches the IP [intellectual property] of African artists,” said Mr Eazi. “Afrobeats has become a global phenomenon, and everybody wants to sample a piece of it. Unfortunately, Afrobeats artists, their producers and labels often have to pursue legal means to secure publishing and royalties after songs they originally created are co-opted without credit by other artists.”
There’s no denying that there is a large gap in legal education between the general public and industry insiders and professionals. Dammy Sanya admits that the law around intellectual property and copyright is largely unknown by many Nigerians–and deliberately so. A lack of knowledge of one’s rights results in a lack of legal remedies to pursue and eventually, the disenfranchisement of the individual. “If I have a right and I’m not aware of the right, it means I cannot exercise the right or stop someone from exercising the right,” he shares with the NATIVE, stressing the importance of getting the right teams as an artist on the scene.
He continues, “When someone bigger than you infringes on your rights, there’s a fear and you feel like there’s nothing you can do. Part of this is because of lack of knowledge of the legal system, but another part of it is the culture that we imbibe whereby people rip people off and don’t give them their rights. Because you are afraid of being blacklisted or being labelled the black sheep, most producers or artists accept the theft and accept the fact they are getting publicity from it.”
In most cases, the resulting publicity from the bigger artist is never worth giving up one’s rights. While the laws in other jurisdictions are more advanced than the industry here, there is value in protecting one’s right to intellectual property. According to Sanya, despite the gripes and general distrust of litigation and the legal system, the results could be seismic for future aggrieved parties. “If there is a judgement that goes in your favour, it may not benefit you but may benefit others. Now, there is judicial precedent and others can easily seek litigation for similar cases,” he explains.
As Afropop continues to grow and welcome new digital tenants each day, sampling is only going to become a more legitimate means of creativity and the law needs to develop to protect our interests. However, currently, the law is playing catch-up with the realities of the industry. According to Sanya, The Nigerian Copyright Act 2004 is the main legal remedy for persons who have had their copyright infringed. However, across the years, there have been calls for legislators to amend the Act and reflect the modern times we live in, which is yet to occur.
Recently, in their statement, emPawa Africa also shared that the proof that emPawa Publishing represents Joeboy, as well as Dëra, is demonstrated in the same public sources (i.e. any performing rights database) through which Rimas determined Lakizo Entertainment’s claim to master ownership. “The inference by Rimas Music that emPawa Africa should provide Rimas with the entirety of its contracts with Joeboy or Dëra is absurd and inconsistent with standard industry practice,” the statement reads.
“If Rimas was truly unaware of this relationship, it would not have contacted Kobalt, the administrator for emPawa Publishing, seeking to obtain publishing clearance after the song’s release,” the statement further reveals. “Instead of acknowledging our subsequent proposal, it opted recently to register its preferred publishing split without clearance or approval from emPawa.”
At the moment, Mr Eazi and the emPawa Africa Team hope that they reach a cordial resolution of the matter with Rimas Music.
This is a developing story and will be updated with developing information. The NATIVE has reached out to Joeboy for a comment which was denied by the artist.
Featured image credits/NATIVE
Written by Wonu Osikoya and Uzoma Ihejirika.