In her latest hit song "Formation," singer Beyoncé sampled the recorded voice of deceased New Orleans rapper Anthony Barré, better known as Messy Mya. Now the rapper's estate, primarily his sister Angel, is suing Beyoncé, as well as Sony Music and Jay Z.
Allegedly the Barré estate reached out to Beyoncé several times seeking compensation and credit for the sample, but "received nothing…no acknowledgment, no credit no remuneration of any kind." So now Barré's sister is asking for $20 million in royalties, as well as proper credit for Messy Mya on the album “as a writer, composer, producer and performer."
Despite the indication Beyoncé may have viewed her use of the samples as homage to Mya, and to the struggles people face in New Orleans, it still may be viewed as copyright infringement. In this case, a judge might determine that Mya's lyrics and voice were used without permission - if it were to get that far.
"It seems like it would be fairly easy, at a reasonable price, for Beyoncé to clear any Mya samples, so it remains to be seen what her legal position will be," states a Forbes article reporting on this lawsuit.
This case clearly demonstrates the importance of obtaining permission to use samples of copyrighted materials in music, art, film, books or other creative works. If you are unsure about whether something is protected under copyright, it may be beneficial to consult with an experienced intellectual property attorney. Your lawyer can help you to obtain proper permissions and mitigate future risk of litigation.