Eminem lawsuit against New Zealand’s National Party over unauthorised campaign use of ‘Lose Yourself’ reaches High Court

The latest in a line of high-profile music copyright cases reaches New Zealand’s High Court, with the country’s ruling party as the defendant.

In 2014 the American rapper Eminem brought copyright proceedings against the New Zealand National Party (“National”), the centre-right party in New Zealand, claiming that National used unlicensed version of ‘Lose Yourself’, one of Eminem’s biggest hits, in a political advert in the build up to the 2014 general election.

Lose Yourself was awarded an Oscar for Best Original Song in 2003 for the film 8 Mile, making it the first ever rap song to have received this accolade, and is described by Eminem’s legal team as ‘iconic’.

The 2014 advert for National, though not featuring any words from Eminem’s song, played a strikingly similar beat and rhythm throughout. The name of the track was even listed as ‘Eminem-Esque’. National said it purchased the track through AMCOS NZ, an authorised music licensing agency, and doesn’t believe it has infringed anyone’s copyright.

Songs which sound similar to famous tracks – but different enough to avoid breaching copyright – routinely feature in free-to-use commercial music libraries. However, evidence provided by Eminem’s legal team included extracts from National’s email exchanges describing the song as an Eminem “sound-alike” and questioning whether there was a risk of Eminem claiming that National were “ripping him off”. According to Eminem’s lawyers, it is clear from these exchanges that National knew it was breaching copyright by using the song.

It is thought that Eminem’s legal team are seeking both a cash settlement and an acknowledgement by the court that National breached copyright. It was pointed out that permission had only very rarely been given for use of Lose Yourself and that when licensed, it can command in the millions of dollars, indicating that Eminem’s damages claim is likely to be significant.

At the time of writing the case is ongoing, but National have reportedly hit back with claims that ‘Lose Yourself’ has only a “low level of originality”. They claim that neither the guitar riff nor the repetitive drumbeat used in ‘Lose Yourself’, and also found in ‘Eminem-Esque’, represent anything new, and are instead merely “building blocks” that are widely used in other songs. National’s representative also reminded the court that copyright law is intended to play a “balancing role” between protecting authors’ work while also allowing for the development of new creations.

Licensing agency AMCOS NZ and Eight Mile Style, which works on behalf of Eminem, are yet to testify. Once they have done so many eyes in the music world will be on the New Zealand High Court to see how they handle this dispute.