Mary J. Blige, Universal Music Group

Sample In Mary J. Blige’s ‘Real Love’ Sparks Copyright Infringement Lawsuit Against Universal Music Group

UMG was sued by Tuff City Records for an allegedly unauthorized sample in Blige's 1992 hit song 'Real Love.'

Mary J. Blige’s “Real Love” is causing legal trouble for Universal Music Group after it was sued for copyright infringement over an allegedly uncleared sample.

On March 28, UMG was sued by Tuff City Records for an allegedly unauthorized sample in Blige’s 1992 hit song “Real Love,” Reuters reports. The New York-based label filed the suit in New York federal court accusing the music empire of using part of the Honey Drippers’ frequently-sampled 1972 funk track “Impeach the President” without receiving official clearance.

Tuff City alleges that Universal Music Publishing has consistently declined to enter meaningful negotiations regarding the sample due to a previous agreement made by a different UMG unit, UMG Recordings, to license the “Real Love” sample.

“Plaintiff has advised Defendant repeatedly of the presence of the uncleared sample from ‘Impeach the President’ in ‘Real Love,’ and Defendant has repeatedly refused to engage Plaintiff in substantive negotiations to rectify the foregoing, let alone agreed to compensate Plaintiff for the past infringement or on an ongoing basis,” the suit states.

The single was a smash hit for Blige at the start of her career, peaking at No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1992. Its use of the legendary drum breakdown on the Honey Drippers’ “Impeach The President” has been used on numerous hip-hop tracks, including songs by Run DMC and, most recently, Doja Cat’s 2023 single “Can’t Wait.”

As the copyright owners to “tens of thousands of musical recordings and compositions from the genres of Blues, Rhythm and Blues, Jazz, Funk, Soul, Hip-Hop, New Orleans, and Latin Music, much of which might otherwise fall into obscurity,” Tuff City has filed past lawsuits against big names acts like Beastie Boys, Jay-Z, Kanye West, and Frank Ocean.

While most of the lawsuits were dismissed, the suit against Kanye was settled for an undisclosed amount. Tuff City is now accusing UMG of causing its company “great and irreparable injury that cannot fully be compensated or measured in money.” They are seeking an undisclosed amount in damages in addition to preliminary and permanent injunctive relief.

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