Eminem Takes NZ Political Party to Court

There was a time when Eminem filled stadiums and arenas around the globe with his incendiary style of hip-hop. This week, the self-styled “Rap God” lit it up in a New Zealand courtroom.

The Oscar and Grammy-winning rapper’s 2002 hit “Lose Yourself” was dropped in a trial targeting NZ’s conservative National Party which, it is alleged, ripped off the song for an election campaign.

Eminem’s Detroit-based music publishers Eight Mile Style launched litigation when the National Party rolled out its Eminem Esque ad to add muscle to its 2014 election campaign (which the party won).

The political party has previously claimed it legally acquired rights to the track, which like the “8 Mile” original opens with a tense guitar lick and pushes forward with a sense of urgency.

After the lawsuit was filed, campaign manager Steven Joyce offered a unique defense of his party’s use of the song as “pretty legal”, and that Eminem’s team “are just having a crack and a bit of an eye for the main chance because it’s an election campaign”. Eminem’s reps didn’t see it that way and U.S.-based British political commentator John Oliver took Joyce to task for his dubious word flow: “Pretty legal? That’s not a concept that exists. That’s like being sort-of dead,” Oliver quipped back in 2014.

Speaking in court this week, Garry Williams, lawyer for Eight Mile Style, quoted from National Party emails including one in which the updated track was described as an Eminem “sound-alike” and another in which an agent for the party wrote: “I guess the question we’re asking, if everyone thinks it’s Eminem, and it’s listed as — Eminem Esque, how can we be confident that Eminem doesn’t say we’re ripping him off,” the Associated Press reports.

And did the judge and nine jurors wave their hands in the air when “Lose Yourself” was played in Wellington’s High Court. Hardly. Footage snapped inside the courtroom shows them all listening politely to the famous hype-up tune.

The result of the NZ court case will be closely watched by the international music biz. Led Zeppelin last year defeated a lawsuit that accused the legendary rockers of stealing the opening riff in “Stairway to Heaven” from a song by the psychedelic rock outfit Spirit. And in 2015, a judge ruled against Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke, finding their track “Blurred Lines” infringed on Marvin Gaye’s 1977 hit “Got to Give It Up.” The judge in that case awarded US$5.3 million in damages plus 50 percent of the song’s future royalties to Gaye’s heirs, though the case has since been appealed. Tom Waits has won several “soundalike” legal battles, including a $2.5 million case against Frito-Lay in the United States for using his vocal style in an ad for Salsa Rio Doritos chips.