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Deejay's lawyers say Sony wants to talk

Flourgon vs Miley Cyrus

BY VERNON DAVIDSON
Executive editor — publications
davidsonv@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

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THE lawyers representing Jamaican dancehall artiste Flourgon in his US$300-million suit against American singer Miley Cyrus alleging copyright infringement say they have been contacted by Sony Corporation for a mediation.

Well-known American attorney Willie Gary made the disclosure during a discussion on the implications of the lawsuit at JN Financial Centre on Belmont Road, St Andrew last Thursday.

“We're working on a date for the mediation,” said Gary, who was accompanied by some of the lawyers from his firm Gary, Williams, Parenti, Watson and Gary, PLLC.

Gary, who is known as “The Giant Killer” for taking down some of the United States's most prominent corporate firms on behalf of his clients, said he didn't want to brag about his track record. However, he figured that it may have contributed to Sony reaching out to him.

“I do think the US$23.6-billion verdict that we got against the tobacco company has sent somewhat of a message to them that we're serious,” he said.

His reference was to a July 2014 verdict awarded by a jury in Florida against RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company on behalf of his client, Cynthia Robinson, whose husband, Michael Johnson Sr, died of lung cancer in 1996 at the age of 36 after smoking for more than 20 years.

Mrs Robinson had argued that the company had deliberately concealed the health hazards of its Kool brand of cigarettes.

Gary's reputation has also been enhanced by the award of US$240 million to one of his clients after he and now late attorney Johnnie Cochran convinced a jury that Disney had stolen the client's idea for a sports theme park.

“We went into Orlando and sued Mickey Mouse, in Disney's backyard, and we got US$240 million, so you better take us seriously,” he said.

In March this year, Flourgon, whose real name is Michael May, filed the lawsuit against Cyrus in the US District Court, Manhattan, New York.

Essentially, the deejay is alleging that Cyrus's 2013 hit song We Can't Stop closely resembles his 1988 hit We Run Things.

Flourgon accused Cyrus and her label RCA Records, owned by Sony Corp, of misappropriating his material, including the lyrics “We run things, things no run we”, which she sings as “We run things, things don't run we”.

He said that last November he won “formal copyright protection” from the US Copyright Office for all musical arrangements in We Run Things.

Asked by a local attorney last Thursday whether he thought that the US$300 million is a bit ambitious, given the nature of the infringement, Gary responded with a quick “No! Flat out no!” eliciting laughter from the room which he had earlier told that the only lawyers he had ever fired from his firm were “those who were afraid to ask for the money”.

“You don't become a big star by just sitting around getting lucky; you become a star because you work from sun up to sun down, it's your music, it's your talent that made it happen, and somebody took it. You can't take from people that which is not yours and get away with it, that's where the punitive big numbers come in,” he said.

“If you're suing somebody, say [a big airline], you can't sue them for US$25,000; you think that's going to make them change their way of doing business? So that's why the US$300 million, [and] you know, it may not be enough,” he added, eliciting more laughter.

Jamaican-born attorney Stephen Drummond, who is a member of Gary's team, suggested that he was looking forward to the mediation talks with Sony.

“What I like in the practice of law is when you deal with opposing counsel and it doesn't become acrimonious. The other side has reached out... To hear one of the executives of Sony on the phone with us talking and walking us through how they would like to go about the case is a great moment, but it's a testament to the ability to collaborate,” Drummond said.

“They're going to do what they have to do and we are going to do what we have to do but I don't anticipate it becoming acrimonious. Ultimately, Gary has always been reaching out with an olive branch and I think that's a great approach to litigation,” Drummond added.

JoAnn Squillace, another attorney on Gary's team, said they were confident of getting Flourgon compensation.

“He's looking forward to having his day in court, and we're just grateful he had the courage to take a stand... so he's paving the way for other artistes and younger artistes to open their eyes and say look, not because you're here in Jamaica doesn't mean that you have to have this happen to you,” Squillace said.

Her comments were somewhat of a corroboration of Gary's opening remarks in which he basically outlined his philosophy regarding litigation.

“Losing is not an option,” he said. “Nobody's going to give you anything. You can't just run around talking about two and three hundred million dollars. You've got to pay the price, burn the midnight oil, leave no stones unturned, then you've got to believe that you can.

“I don't want to lose anything. I'm not cocky, but I'm a believer. I went 17 years without losing a case, burning the midnight oil. We feel pretty good about this case,” he said.

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