updated 02:17 am EDT, Tue March 12, 2013
Auto-tuned 'performance' taken from TV interview, sold on iTunes
A woman from Oklahoma who calls herself "Sweet Brown" became famous over a short but colorful interview she gave to a local TV and radio station following an apartment fire, best known for the signature line from it, "ain't nobody got time for that." The line has subsequently become an Internet "meme," or widely-quoted idea or sentiment. A "song" created by Texas radio personalities following her TV interview using snippets of the KFOR appearance and a subsequent follow-up radio interview was briefly sold on iTunes, and is now the subject of a lawsuit.
Brown (real name Katherine Wilkins) gave permission to be interviewed on radio and TV over the incident (as seen below), but was not aware her words could be edited and auto-tuned into a musical "performance" that was subsequently aired on the Bob Rivers show in San Antonio TX. The "song," called "I Got Bronchitis," was eventually made available as a download on iTunes from April 16 to June 29. It is not yet known exactly how many times the track was purchased on iTunes.
Brown and a co-defendant are suing Apple, the Bob Rivers Show and Citicasters (the owners of the radio station) for defrauding Brown by using her voice and likeness to sell the "song" without her knowledge or consent. "At no time did Sweet Brown [agree] to have her name, likeness, voice, statements [or] photograph used in connection with any products, songs, video productions, merchandise, goods, advertisements or solicitations for merchandise, goods or service," according to a filing in federal court.
As Apple played no active role in the making or selling of the song, it may eventually be dropped from the suit. However, the case may have wide-ranging implications for sampling and songs that contain snippets of "found" recordings -- thanks to tuning technology, nearly any recorded utterance can be repurposed and added to songs, creating a potential legal headache for content creators and making it difficult for services like iTunes to promote some kinds of music that rely on samples.
The initial suit called for $15 million in damages, including $7.5 million in punitive damages, but has since been revised with no set amounts. Two attorneys attached to the case originally have been granted permission to leave, citing "unresolvable differences" with the plaintiffs that required them to withdraw. The two women are currently without legal representation.