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Does Frank Ocean Stand a Chance in His Lawsuit Against Longtime Producer Om’Mas Keith?

February 22, 2018Media Mention
Pitchfork

This week, Frank Ocean filed a lawsuit in California federal court against his longtime producer, Om’Mas Keith. According to the nine-page complaint, Keith verbally agreed to produce tracks for Ocean’s 2016 album Blonde for a flat fee, but later refused to sign a formal contract and ultimately claimed songwriting credits on 11 of the 17 songs.

Some attorneys specializing in music copyright law tell me Ocean should have an open-and-shut case. But others raise questions about the allegations. Their uncertainty jibes with what Ocean’s Blonde-era associates have told me, both previously and now, about how Ocean sessions tend to work. Like many other copyright claims, this lawsuit will probably settle. If it doesn’t, though, one of music’s most mysterious creators will be forced to divulge how his closely guarded masterwork was made.

In the end, Ocean may come to regret suing Keith over the songs’ authorship rather than waiting to see if Keith would sue him. As Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams found out when they sued the estate of Marvin Gaye, in their “Blurred Lines” defeat that is now under appeal, preemptive strikes are not without risk. If Keith had sued, the burden of proof would’ve been on him to show he wrote the songs. Because Ocean is the one suing, the onus is on him to show that Keith didn’t write them. “It’s always harder to prove a negative than to sit back, see what proof the producer brings on, and then pick it apart,” says Bill Hochberg, a music lawyer who works with the Bob Marley estate.

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