Comparing Eminem to Benny Goodman, Elvis Presley and Paul Simon, a federal judge ruled yesterday that the company that publishes a leading hip-hop magazine was in contempt of court for failing to comply with orders in a copyright battle with the rapper.
In two separate orders released yesterday, Judge Gerard E. Lynch of United States District Court for the Southern District of New York awarded some monetary damages to Eminem’s record company, Shady Records, and dismissed counterclaims against Eminem himself, whose real name is Marshall B. Mathers III.
Judge Lynch ruled that the publisher of The Source, Source Enterprises, had violated his injunction by publishing on its Web site (www.the source.com) lyrics ascribed to Eminem. The lyrics, which disparage black women, are several years old, written before Eminem acquired his fame. The judge said their publication by The Source carried the potential to impair the credibility of Eminem, who is white. Eminem has acknowledged writing them but described them as a product of adolescent heartbreak.
“Mathers is the most prominent of the handful of white hip-hop artists who have been artistically or commercially successful,” Judge Lynch wrote. “Like other white musicians who have been successful in musical genres or forms pioneered by Africans or African-Americans, from Benny Goodman to Elvis Presley to Paul Simon, Mathers has been accused of exploiting black culture; he in turn has asserted his respect for his black role models and peers, and has maintained that he comes by his hip-hop success honestly, as a young man from a poor urban background who has long been associated with African-American friends, neighbors and mentors.”
The magazine cast its publication of the lyrics as a journalistic exposé; Eminem and his record company cast it as copyright infringement, and the parties took their dispute to court. The main copyright infringement claim is still being litigated.
One order issued yesterday released Eminem from responsibility for counterclaims of copyright infringement, finding that only his record company, as the assignee of his rights, was directly involved in that dispute.
A second order found that The Source was in civil contempt for publishing the lyrics on its Web site, where a lawyer for Shady Records found them. The judge stopped short of ruling the magazine company’s contempt willful, and he denied requests for sanctions against it, awarding little more than the costs of enforcing the injunction, which have not been determined.
“At the same time,” Judge Lynch wrote, “the degree of acrimony and lawyerly zeal in this litigation makes it inconceivable that Source was unaware that Shady would be vigorously monitoring its compliance with the order.”
Dennis Dennehy, a spokesman for Interscope Records, the parent of Shady Records, declined to comment on the orders.
Michael S. Elkin, a partner at Thelen, Reid & Priest who is the trial lawyer for The Source, said in a telephone interview that his client’s focus remained on the copyright infringement claims.
“The Source had every right to publish the material it did release to inform the public about who Eminem is,” he said.