Music Force, which owns most of the rights to “Carry On,” announced in July 2019 that it was suing Lil Nas X, his collaborators, and Sony for $25 million. The Lil Nas X track incorporates the 1982 Bobby Caldwell hit “Carry On.” Not only are the titles the same, but a woman sings Caldwell’s chorus in a faster tempo. So the question isn’t even whether copyright infringement occurred, but how much the damages should be.
A number of rappers have sampled “Carry On,” including Snoop Dogg and Warren G. Apparently their producers were wise enough to obtain permission to use the song. Not so the group surrounding Lil Nas X. It’s also hard to imagine why Sony didn’t verify that the rights were cleared before putting out the song, which hit the streets five months before his mega hit “Old Town Road.” Music Force isn’t asking for a share of revenue, since the song generated lots of interest but few sales. Instead, they are trying to demonstrate that the unauthorized version destroyed the value of their song because now no big name artist will want to obtain the rights.
The infringement is so blatant that I’m certain the lawsuit will be settled out of court. Judge for yourself from the videos below. If there’s any silver lining, it’s that the Lil Nas X version improves on the original. I love a lot of 80s music, but the Caldwell recording sounds quite dated with a blandly smooth R&B vibe.
“Carry On” — Lil Nas X:
“Carry On” — Bobby Caldwell:
In the second lawsuit, producers Don Lee and Glen Keith claim that “Rodeo” shares similarities with their 2017 work “gwenXdonlee4-142,” which was later incorporated into the song “Broad Day” by PuertoReefa and Sakrite Duexe. Lil Nas X and his collaborators, including Cardi B, claim that “Rodeo” was “created independently from and without knowledge of the allegedly infringed work.” But here again, the infringement is obvious. Both tracks incorporate the same repeated chord progression with a vaguely Middle-Eastern vibe and are even in the same key.
Perhaps they are being honest. It wouldn’t be the first time that musicians wrote something that they did not remember hearing previously. But coming on the heels of the other lawsuit, I find the response disingenuous. But here’s another silver lining: “Rodeo” is definitely a stronger song. That shouldn’t be surprising given the money and music muscle behind it. The beat is cooler, the structure more dynamic. Besides, I really dislike the Auto-Tuned rapping in “Broad Day.” Compare both versions below.
The New Normal?
How much did Lil Nas X know about these decisions to steal intellectual property? Or was he simply unlucky to surround himself with unscrupulous actors? Perhaps stealing is the new normal. Better to move fast and make a ton of money, then worry about settling later on, I guess. Unlike more nuanced copyright cases from the past, these examples are all so laughably blatant. Nike and MSCHF have settled the sneaker lawsuit. We’ll see what happens with the others.