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Budget Funk

By 11/24/2009 September 9th, 2014 All Posts, Gary's Posts

George ClintonIn some quarters, including the Colbert Report (though I must give props to brother Colbert for mentioning this on his show ‘cause otherwise I wouldn’t have known and thus have nothing to write about), it’s been reported that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld the copyright infringement of the lyrics ‘bow wow wow yippie yo, yippiee yeah’ by the Master of Cosmic Slop, George Clinton.

Thing is the P-Funk ringmaster isn’t the winner, but an entity called Bridgeport Music which brought suit against Universal Music Group. In contention was a 1998 song D.O.G. in Me by a Universal group called Public Announcement who lifted, er, sampled, (among many others including Snoop Dogg and Ice Cube) those aforementioned lyrics from the 1982 funk and R&B classic, Atomic Dog, performed by Dr. Funkenstein his damn self, George Clinton. The song was written by Clinton, David Spradley and Garry Shider.

At trial Spradley testified Clinton had been out partying hard the night he was to come in and record lyrics to the song in the studio. He and Shider had to help the good doctor stand at the mic on unsteady pins, and letting him riff until something good happened.

“I just had the word dog,” Clinton recalled on NPR in 2006. “That’s all I had in my mind. I had to ad lib a lot of it. The track was atomic. It’s a futuristic track. “I don’t still hear no tracks like that one.”

The ultimate irony here is some sources have stated Bridgeport “administers” Clinton’s music. Apparently that’s a 21st century euphemism for you as the writer won’t see squat. As Mr. Maggot Brain apparently twittered post the court’s decision, neither he nor the other writers of the song will see any of the $89,000 in damages Bridgeport was awarded for Atomic Dog’s unauthorized use by Public Announcement. Bridgeport filed some 476 cases of copyright suits in 2001, with two – this case and one against the late Notorious B.I.G. – making it to trail.

Clinton has had legal wranglings with Bridgeport, his former music publisher, over the rights to his work. In 2005 he won ownership of the master recordings to four albums he made with his group Funkadelic, One Nation Under a Groove, Hardcore Jollies, Uncle Jam Wants You and the Electric Spanking of War Babies. This gave him licensing and recording rights. But he doesn’t own the copyrights of the songs on those albums or others like the ones on Computer Games from which the Atomic Dog single arose.

In a tale too often repeated among musicians, as this was particularly an egregious situation among blues and rhythm and blues musicians, in 1983 a broke George Clinton signed away those copyrights for the $1 million advance he got from Bridgeport. In 2001 a judge upheld that contract as well as pointing out that even if Clinton did have those rights, he couldn’t profit from them, because he didn’t disclose them as possible income when he filed for bankruptcy in 1984.

I guess the lesson here is there’s a niche to be filled in offering financial literacy classes to musicians. That when you’re shelling out money for hoochies on the video, motherships to descend on stage, and indulging for who knows what vice among your entourage, you gotta budget.

In the words of Funkadelic, can you get to that?

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