A New York City judge has dismissed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Warner Chappell Music, Jay-Z, Timbaland, and Ginuwine regarding the tracks “Paper Chase” and “Toe 2 Toe.” The lawsuit was brought by soul musician Ernie Hines, who claimed that these tracks infringed on the copyright of his 1969 song “Help Me Put Out The Flame (In My Heart).” However, Judge Paul Oetken ruled that the part of Hines’ song that was allegedly copied is not protected under copyright. This decision was based on the fact that the six-second introduction in Hines’ song is a slightly altered version of a music piece from 1914 that is in the public domain.
In his ruling, Judge Oetken emphasized that this introduction adds material that is not original enough to be copyrightable. He cited a precedent-setting case from 2021 and stated that authors and artists cannot claim copyright in previous creative works that have fallen into the public domain. The court also agreed with the defendants’ claim that there was not substantial enough similarity between the allegedly infringing works and Hines’ song to support a copyright infringement claim. With this ruling, the lawsuit against Warner Chappell Music, Jay-Z, Timbaland, and Ginuwine has been dismissed.
The tracks in question, “Paper Chase” and “Toe 2 Toe,” were released in the late 1990s. They did not achieve significant commercial success, with “Toe 2 Toe” garnering around 285,000 streams on Spotify and “Paper Chase” receiving 1.7 million streams. Hines originally filed his lawsuit in 2019 after hearing these tracks for the first time in 2018. The initial lawsuit, which was dismissed in 2020 for failure to state a claim, named additional defendants such as Roc-A-Fella Records, Def Jam Recordings, Universal Music Group, and Sony Music. Hines later filed an amended complaint, which resulted in the recent dismissal of the lawsuit.