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Classic Copyright Cases – Roy Orbison v 2 Live Crew

August 27, 2020, By

He’s back again with another Classic Copyright Case. This time it is classic rock and country musician Roy Orbison up against seedy hip hop group 2 Live Crew.

2 Live Crew had a reputation for profane songs generally centred around women. Roy Orbison did not have the same reputation. Their 1989 album As Nasty as They Wanna Be received criticism for being obscene so in response they came back with As Clean as They Wanna Be, a less sordid version of the original.

One of the tracks on the album was Pretty Woman which contained an obvious sample of – yes, you guessed it – Roy Orbison’s 1964 classic Oh, Pretty Woman. Although not as derogatory as their usual works, Pretty Woman still was not complimentary to women to say the least.

2 Live Crew’s Luther Campbell attempted to clear the sample from the song’s publisher but they were not impressed by the track and refused the request. Ultimately this did not stop 2 Live Crew and they proceeded to release the track.

The release sparked a major legal battle that eventually made its way up to the Supreme Court. In the end 2 Live Crew got off scot-free after the judges ruled that Pretty Woman was a parody and therefore came under the remit of fair use. This is a defence to copyright infringement and allowed 2 Live Crew to escape liability.

As always, our specialist solicitors and music lovers here at Briffa are always on hand to help with all things music, be it contracts, claims or even just a free chat about what’s what. Please do not hesitate to contact us at [email protected] or on 020 7288 6003 for a free consultation.

Written by Alex Fewtrell, Solicitor