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Harlem Shake 'could be in trouble with copyright lawyers'

Posted by: Laurence Simons 12/03/13

People with lawyer jobs, one would like to imagine, are too busy dealing with serious matters to become aware of internet ephemera such as Harlem Shake - the latest YouTube hit to spawn a litany of lukewarm parodies, in addition to topping the Billboard 100 pop chart and selling over 800,000 digital downloads.

However, they could find themselves learning more about the reggeaton-themed viral hit, with the New York Times reporting that two artists are considering taking legal action after learning that the song samples pieces of their music without permission.

This could raise further copyright issues in the future, with the nature of YouTube hits and sampling making this a murky area - while hip-hop artists occasionally use snatches of other people's music without permission, and many amateur YouTube efforts take the same approach, when songs unexpectedly rise to this kind of prominence it is possible that lawsuits will begin to come out of the woodwork.

Former musician Hector Delgado and Philadelphia rapper Jayson Musson, an ex-member of the Plastic Little collective, have both become aware that their work is being used in the video.

"It's almost like they came on my land and built a house," Mr Delgado - who is now an evangelical preacher in Puerto Rico - told the New York Times.

Both Mr Musson and Mr Delgado are seeking compensation from Mad Decent Records, which put out the single last year.

Although it is now standard practice for major labels to ensure all the t-s are crossed and i's are dotted when it comes to signing off on samples, the reality is that many smaller companies lack the time or resources to do this.

"You don't have the same checks and balances that you would if it were done by a corporation with a legal department," said David Israelite, the president and chief executive of the National Music Publishers Association.

Given the internet's potential to propel any terrible, lowest-common-denominator guff to sudden, depressing ubiquity in a short amount of time, it seems possible that issues could arise more often over the next few years as pop continues to eat itself with remarkable eagerness.

We can only be grateful that this copyright violation issue has arisen before a team of legal partners joined Justin Timberlake, an Australian gold mine worker, and some law students in performing their own version of the dance. Thank heaven for small mercies.