Love ‘Space Jam’? Pay for License Before Using the Song or You Might Get Sued

MSDSPJA WB017 - Credit: Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett C

Not everyone is welcome to the jam anymore. Attorneys representing Watson Music Group, a company that claims ownership of the rights to Quad City DJ’s celebrated “Space Jam” theme from the 1996 movie, have been mailing notices of infringement to several companies, according to Billboard.

The company, which Billboard reports purchased the song in 2019, sent a letter to the Minor League Baseball team the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers this week claiming that the team used the song in a 2017 Facebook video. It has also sent similar notices, which Billboard describes as federal lawsuits, in the past three months and it has sent an unknown number of letters claiming they did not have a “retroactive license” allowing them to use the song. The sports-betting company SportsGrid received a notice as did the Florida-based CPPM Leasing LLC.

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Watson is seeking $150,000 in damages from the team. “Despite plaintiff’s efforts and willingness to address defendant’s infringing activity, defendant failed to respond and plaintiff was forced to seek judicial intervention for defendant’s infringing activity,” reads the lawsuit, according to Billboard.

“Our client’s policy is to send out a notice when it, with reasonable diligence, discovers the infringement,” attorney Darren Heitner, who represents Watson, told the trade mag. “It has recently become much more active in policing such infringement with the intent to engage in thorough discourse with the infringer before escalating each matter.”

A rep for the Timber Rattlers did not immediately return Rolling Stone’s request for comment. Heitner had no further comment beyond his statement to Billboard.

Quad City DJ’s, a trio from Jacksonville, Florida, wrote and produced “Space Jam” for the movie, which featured Michael Jordan shooting hoops with Bugs Bunny. The song plays over the movie’s opening credits, which features archival photos and footage of Jordan playing throughout the years. The song made it up to Number 37 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and enjoyed a second life in the 2000s as a meme. The song, incidentally, includes a “whoop (there it is)” callout, which harkens back to a couple of other copyrighted songs, Tag Team’s “Whoomp! (There It Is),” and 95 South’s “Whoot, There It Is,” which was written by Quad City DJ’s C.C. Lemonhead and Jay Ski. No litigation resulted in the similarity between those songs.

Quad City DJ’s did not immediately return Rolling Stone’s request for comment.

The website for Watson Music Group, which also does business as Quadrasound Music, focuses on litigating alleged misuse of the “Space Jam” copyright. “Did you receive a notice from us?” it asks. “U.S. copyright law provides large financial penalties for using someone’s copyrighted work without permission, we would rather save you the expense and worry of litigation by having you work with us to resolve this matter outside of the courts by issuing you a retroactive license.”

The site further states that unauthorized use of “Space Jam” on social media is infringement — even if you take it off your social media and apologize and acknowledge the song’s owner it’s still infringement — and that the company could sue for $30,000 for “unintentional” infringement. Willful infringement cases, such as the Timber Rattlers’ alleged use, could warrant a $150,000 penalty.

“I can’t speak broadly to whether our client is seeking payment from everyone who has used the content as part of a meme, given the facts vary on a case-by-case basis and there are instances where a meme may be commercialized or be used as part of a larger commercial enterprise,” Heitner told Billboard. The attorney also did not disclose how much the company is seeking to avoid court.

That’s all, folks. OK, probably not.

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