Yesterday, Miley Cyrus was hit with a $300 million dollar lawsuit by Jamaican artist Michael May, known as Flourgon, alleging that her 2013 song “We Can’t Stop” infringes on May’s song “We Run Things.” May claims to have created the line “We run things / Things no run we” for the reggae track in 1988, which bears resemblance to the line from Cyrus’ chorus: “We run things / Things don’t run we.”
May is also suing writers and producers on the song, including Theron Thomas, Timothy Thomas, and Mike Williams, as well as Cyrus’ manager Larry Rudolph, Sony Music. and RCA Records. The suit claims that Cyrus’ track would not have seen the same success without May’s allegedly stolen work and the language of Caribbean music, particularly Jamaican Patois. May points to a 2015 interview with Theron Thomas, in which Thomas cites the influence of Caribbean culture on his music, to support the suit’s claims that this was no coincidence.
May’s attorney named $300 million as a compensation figure for CNNMoney, and May is additionally seeking the prevention of the song’s further sale, distribution and performance. He claims to have attained copyright protection with the U.S. Copyright Office for all elements of “We Run Things” last November.
“We Run Things” topped charts as a No. 1 single in Jamaica in the 1980s, while “We Can’t Stop” peaked at No. 2 in 2013. The No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 that year was Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” which itself garnered considerable attention over a copyright infringement case involving the 1977 Marvin Gaye song “Got to Give It Up.” More recently, a suit was filed against Taylor Swift for alleged infringement of a line from Sean Hall and Nathan Butler. In 2015, Marvin Gaye’s family won $5.3 million and ongoing royalties from the Thicke case; however, in Swift’s case, a judge decided that the lyrics in question were “short phrases that lack the modicum of originality and creativity required for copyright protection” and dismissed the case earlier this year.
Generally, strong similarity between multiple musical elements of two songs is necessary for a convincing copyright infringement case. In the Swift case, the judge claimed that the plaintiffs could not provide more proof of similarity besides two brief lyrical phrases. However in May’s case, cultural and thematic content is also at stake. The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan and is currently pending.