Damon Dash has lost the “Dear Frank” lawsuit.
According to TMZ, the co-founder of Roc-A-Fella Records has been ordered to pay Josh Webber and Muddy Waters Pictures more than $800,000 to settle the company’s lawsuit for defamation and copyright infringement.
“I will get every penny due my clients,” promises Chris Brown, the attorney for the plaintiffs in the matter.
According to HipHopDX, though, the two parties weren’t shy about exchanging verbal barbs in the media regarding the matter. Webber went on a tear on Instagram (which has since been deleted) calling Damon Dash a liar and accusing him of everything from the verbal abuse of the staff to being high on the set.
For his part, Dash claimed that Webber was a “culture vulture” and was “trying to take credit for a Black man’s work.”
It bears noting that while Webber’s rants have been deleted, Dash’s rants have not — and according to legal experts, this may have worked against him in the matter. Molly B. Kenny, who works in divorce matters, points out that trashing someone online can only serve to prove their case of defamation against you, and the truth is not an absolute defense against defamation (It is considered a defense, but not the sole defense — and trying to prove “truth” is quite expensive).
“If you can’t prove your allegations are true, your reputation for truthfulness can seriously hurt you in any future court proceedings,” she writes.
Regardless of the verbal barbs between the parties, the crux of the matter was pretty simple: did Damon Dash commit copyright infringement by claiming he was part of a project he was no longer a part of? And if so, how much does he need to pay Webber and Muddy Waters Pictures for what he did?
Since the courts already ruled in Webber’s favor, let’s take a look at what that means.
What is the 'Dear Frank' lawsuit?
Josh Webber and Muddy Waters Pictures sued Damon Dash for copyright infringement and defamation.
What did the directors sue him for?
In 2019, Josh Webber and Muddy Waters Pictures sued Damon Dash for copyright infringement and defamation, according to a report released from TMZ at the time.
“Josh and MWP say they officially dropped Dame in 2018, since no official contract was ever signed between the parties,” reported the outlet. “And they went on to make the film, which is due out in February and stars Claudia Jordan. But now, Josh and MWP say Dame has been trying to push himself as part of the project … even though he isn’t.”
For Dash’s part, however, he claims that he was going to file a lawsuit of his own. He claimed that Webber stole his equipment and shot the film on his property without paying him for the usage, and that he was going to present all the evidence in court.
Copyright Infringement and Defamation
According to the United States Copyright Office, copyright infringement is when “a copyrighted work is reproduced, distributed, performed, publicly displayed, or made into a derivative work without the permission of the copyright owner.”
In the case of the so-called “Dear Frank” lawsuit, Josh Webber and Muddy Water Pictures were the copyright owners of the film in question. When Dash made promotional posters and other materials advertising his role in the film, “The List” — which “coincidentally” had the same cast lineup as “Dear Frank” — and subsequently sent them to outlets like BET to further promote his position, he was said to be committing copyright infringement.
Some things, however, are considered “fair use” under copyright law. For example, according to Michelson IP, if the work serves the public interest and does not harm the original work’s bottom line, it’s considered fair use.
In the case of this lawsuit, “The List” was meant to dilute (that is, make the original work lose money) “Dear Frank,” which is why the courts found in favor of Webber.
How did this all happen?
Originally, Damon Dash was linked to the film. However, in a press release dropped in 2018, Webber and Muddy Waters Pictures announced that Dash was no longer a part of the project.
“Damon Dash, the co-founder of Roc-A-Fella Records who launched the careers of Jay-Z and Kanye West, has been officially released as Director from movie studio Muddy Waters Pictures new film project ‘The List,'” read a statement in the press release. “After creative differences overall with the studio, the projects executive producer Mike Muntaser and owner of Muddy Waters Pictures released Damon Dash from the film project in a paramount move to finish off the film himself. The film is set to be renamed and finished with a 2019 release date starring Brian White, Claudia Jordan, Columbus Short, Torrei Hart and Nicholas Turturro.”
It’s not clear why Dash created the promotional materials advertising “The List” (which was named “Dear Frank” after his departure) or why he sent said materials off to press outlets to advertise his participation when he was no longer in the film.
As of press time, Dash hasn’t released an official statement but he did take to his Instagram.