Federal Judge Rules on the ‘Despacito’ v. ‘Despasito’ Copyright Lawsuit

Attribution @JeremeyJoung

A District Court Judge in Florida recently dismissed a lawsuit filed against Universal Music Group Latino and music artists Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee, and Erika Ender, alleging copyright infringement over the hit song “Despacito.” The lawsuit was originally filed in July 2019, but a federal judge issues a final opinion and order on the case last week.

The lawsuit was filed by Newton Enrique Canga Cortes, who claimed that Despacito’s lyrics copied lyrics from his song “Despasito,” which he wrote in 2006. “Despacito” was recorded by Luis Fonsi featuring Daddy Yankee and was released in April 2017. Cortes also claimed that the similar title (there is only one letter changed between both song titles), a similar word count of all of the lyrics in the songs, plus a nearly identical use of short phrases and certain words and short phrases, among other factors, indicated clear infringement of his song.

In the lawsuit, Cortes sought a reward of 20% of the royalties generated from Despacito, $50,000 for compensation for the unauthorized use of his work, and statutory damages of $150,000.

The matter was decided by Judge Kathleen M. Williams, who dismissed the case in an order issued on Thursday (August 6). Judge Williams ultimately found that when the two works were compared side by side, “the works are only similar as to unprotectable elements and share no commonality at the level of protectable expression.” Judge Williams further pointed out that that the most blatant similarity, the song titles, were “too short and generic to meet the required threshold for creativity to qualify for copyright protection,”  specifically stating that “while Plaintiff’s original arrangement of the word ‘Despacito’ in his lyrics is protectable, Defendants did not copy any creative selection that could constitute protectable expression.”

The case name is Canga Cortes v. Universal Music Latino et al., and was brought for appeal in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. The case number is 1:19-cv-22813.

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