As we reported earlier this week, on Tuesday night Frank Ocean told his Tumblr following Don Henley had threatened to sue him over his use of the entire master track for the Eagles’ classic “Hotel California,” which Ocean reinvented as his own “American Wedding,” an elegy to the hypocrisy of Western culture’s ideas of love and marriage.
Now SPIN has learned that wasn’t exactly the case. When asked to confirm that Henley had made contact with Ocean’s people, a rep for the Eagles told us it wasn’t actually Henley who made the threat, but rather the owner of the master track Ocean nicked: Warner Music Group. In a statement to SPIN, Larry Solters writes, “Frank Ocean did not merely ‘sample’ a portion of the Eagles’ Hotel California; he took the whole master track, plus the song’s existing melody, and replaced the lyrics with his own. This is not creative, let alone ‘intimidating.’ It’s illegal. For the record, Don Henley has not threatened or instituted any legal action against Frank Ocean, although the Eagles are now considering whether they should. Any further questions regarding this matter should be directed to Warner Music Group as it is the entity that currently owns the master recording and made the contact with Frank Ocean’s representatives concerning his infringement of the master recording.”
So, in short, the label called foul on “American Wedding,” but now the issue is on the Eagles’ radar. Ocean did not collect money for sales of his Eagles-sampling song (nostalgia, Ultra was released for free on Ocean’s Tumblr), but record companies have a long history of suing over such matters anyway (see The Grey Album).
Ocean is about to make his first summer festival rounds (including Coachella) and is poised to release his first commercial debut with Island Def Jam (a label under one of Warner Music Group’s main competitors, Universal Music Group) later this year. nostalgia, Ultra dropped February 18, 2011 — a whole year ago.
In the meantime, as Pitchfork points out, a whole bunch of Frank Ocean live videos on Youtube have been muted because they “contain … audio tracks that have not been authorized by all copyright holders. The audio has been disabled.”
Ocean, presumably not under the advice of a lawyer, continues to blog about the case: “He (They) threatened to sue if I perform it again. I think that’s fuckin awesome,” he wrote. “I guess if I play it at coachella it’ll cost me a couple hundred racks. If I don’t show up to court, it’ll be a judgement against me & will probably show up on my credit report. Oh well. I try to buy my shit cash anyway. They also asked that I release a statement expressing my admiration for Mr. Henley, along with my assistance pulling it off the web as much as possible. Shit’s weird. Ain’t this guy rich as fuck? Why sue the new guy? I didn’t make a dime off that song. I released it for free. If anything I’m paying homage.”