Daddy Yankee, Karol G and dozens of other artists are asking a federal judge to toss out a sprawling copyright lawsuit that claims “Despacito” and hundreds of other reggaeton tracks infringed a single 1989 song, arguing the accusers are “effectively claiming ownership of an entire genre of music.”
The case, filed by Jamaican duo Cleveland “Clevie” Browne and Wycliffe “Steely” Johnson, claims that their 1989 song “Fish Market” has been sampled or interpolated into more than 1,800 songs in the years since it was released — and that each one amounts to an act of copyright infringement.
But in a motion filed Thursday (June 15), attorneys for the accused infringers finally struck back — arguing that after “30 years of inaction,” Clevie & Steely were unfairly trying to monopolize a whole style of popular music.
“Plaintiffs [are] effectively claiming ownership of an entire genre of music by claiming exclusive rights to the rhythm and other unprotectable musical elements common to all ‘reggaeton’-style songs,” wrote lawyers from Pryor Cashman, the same law firm that just won Ed Sheeran’s big trial with similar arguments.
First filed in 2021, the enormous lawsuit names more than 150 defendants, including “Despacito” stars Daddy Yankee, Luis Fonsi and Justin Bieber as well as Bad Bunny, Anitta, Pitbull, Karol G, Ricky Martin, El Chombo and many other artists, plus units of all three major music companies. The case claims that “Fish Market,” and several other songs that directly copied it, formed the basis for the “dembow” rhythm that’s been used in countless reggaeton songs in the years since.
But in Thursday’s response, lawyers from Pryor Cashman (who represent 89 of those defendants) said the size of the case had made it a procedural disaster — a confusing mess in which nobody knows exactly what they’re accused of doing wrong. Without those specific allegations, they said Clevie & Steely had failed to satisfy “the fundamental elements of a copyright infringement claim.”
“The [complaint] is a ‘shotgun pleading’ filled with conclusory allegations that lump defendants together, making it impossible for Defendants to determine what each is alleged to have done, what works are at issue and what in those works is allegedly infringing,” the attorneys wrote.
The lawyers for Daddy Yankee and the other defendants also sharply criticized the length of time that elapsed before bringing the case. The U.S. Supreme Court has said that copyright cases can usually be filed even decades later, but Thursday’s filing said that Clevie & Steely’s case pushed that system to its breaking point.
“Plaintiffs neither filed any action nor registered any copyrights until 2020 — at least thirty years after the creation of the works,” the lawyers for the accused artists wrote. “These failures constitute misleading inaction, during which an entire genre of reggaeton music developed, which plaintiffs now claim to own.”
An attorney for Clevie & Steely did not immediately return a request for comment on Friday.
Despite being filed in 2021, the case over “Fish Market” is still in the earliest stages, thanks in no small part to the procedural complexity of a lawsuit involving scores of defendants and hundreds of songs. If Thursday’s motion is denied, the case will proceed into discovery, where both sides will exchange evidence, and head toward an eventual trial. But such a resolution could still be years away.