Reggaeton Lawsuit Targeting Over 100 Artists Moves Forward

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A federal judge has rejected a motion to dismiss a substantial copyright lawsuit involving over 1,000 reggaeton songs, including tracks by globally recognized artists such as Bad Bunny and J Balvin.

The lawsuit alleges these artists illegally used the instrumental percussion from “Fish Market,” a song released in 1989 by Jamaican producers Cleveland “Clevie” Browne and the late Wycliffe “Steely” Johnson. The case consolidates multiple individual lawsuits against a range of reggaeton artists, from emerging talents like Danny Ocean to established stars such as Daddy Yankee and Zion y Lennox. 

Browne and the Johnson estate claim these artists infringed on the drum pattern of “Fish Market,” which features a distinctive arrangement of kick, snare, and hi-hat, among other instruments.

The original 228-page complaint describes this pattern as “original to Mr. Browne and Mr. Johnson and groundbreaking upon its creation.” It details numerous instances where popular artists allegedly used the pattern without crediting the original creators. 

The complaint also traces the pattern’s influence, highlighting how Shabba Ranks popularized it further with his 1990 track “Dem Bow,” which played a pivotal role in shaping the reggaeton genre.

Many of the artists named in the lawsuit have called for its dismissal. Lawyers for Bad Bunny argued that the case seeks to “monopolize practically the entire reggaeton musical genre,” according Billboard. However, U.S. District Judge André Birotte Jr. denied nearly all motions to dismiss, stating that the complaint met its procedural requirements.

“The court is unprepared at this stage to examine the history of the reggaeton and dancehall genres and dissect the genres’ features to determine whether the elements common between the allegedly infringing works and the subject works are commonplace, and thus unprotectable, as a matter of law,” Judge Birotte said, as reported by Court House News.

The case will now proceed to the discovery phase, where both sides will exchange evidence, take depositions, and gather testimonials.