“It’s not a collaboration,” she said. “It’s called stealing because the definition of collaboration means we work together. There is no collaboration if you don’t check in to see if everything is okay.
Representatives for Beyoncé and Williams did not respond to requests for comment from The Washington Post.
According to Joe Bennett, forensic musicologist and professor at Berklee College of Music, there are two main copyrights in music: the musical work as it relates to songwriting and editing; and sound recording, often called the masters. A common industry model, called for in recent years by Taylor Swift, is that the record company owns the masters and songwriters of the musical work.
Neither Beyoncé nor Williams and Hugo were legally required to contact Kelis before shooting “Milkshake,” Bennett said, because Williams and Hugo, who produced the 2003 single as Neptunes, were also the only writers- composers listed above. They received songwriting credits on Beyoncé’s track, “Energy,” and the full credits note that the song contains an interpolation of Kelis’ “Milkshake.” (The interpolation means that “Energy” does not contain the actual audio of “Milkshake” but an interpretation of it.)
“Legally,” Bennett said, “this case is open and closed.”
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But for Kelis, who received a Grammy nomination for Best Urban/Alternative Performance for “Milkshake,” the issue came down to “common decency.” In her second Instagram video, she said her anger was “not really about Beyoncé”, but rather directed at what she considered “a lot of hypocrisy”. Williams has spoken publicly about how artists should own their own music or be empowered to rework chords, she said. But early in her career, she made a deal with Williams and Hugo that she now sees as unfair.
Kelis met the Neptunes through a mutual friend when she was 19, and they hit it off creatively. Speaking to the Guardian two years ago about his early music, Kelis recalled being “told we were going to split the whole thing on 33/33/33, which we didn’t”. She said she was “flagrantly lied to and deceived” and made no money from the sales of her first two albums, both produced by Neptunes.
“Their argument is, ‘Well, you signed it.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, I signed off on what I was told, and I was too young and too stupid to check it out,’ Kelis told the Guardian.
In the second Instagram video, Kelis reiterated that she knows “what I own and what I don’t.”
“I also know the lies that were told,” she continued. “I also know the things that were stolen. The edition was stolen, people were defrauded. It happens all the time, especially back then. So it’s not about me being mad at Beyoncé.
Beyoncé has announced that “Renaissance,” her seventh solo studio album, will be the first of a “three-act project.” The album’s rollout so far has been more traditional than you’d expect from Beyoncé, who has become known for her meticulously planned surprises; she teased her release with the explosive single “Break My Soul,” which features a snippet of Robin S’s song “Show Me Love.”
“Show Me Love” is credited to Allen George and Fred McFarlane – who, as in the situation with Williams and Hugo, got songwriting credits on Beyoncé’s track. And like Kelis, Robin S didn’t know her work had been sampled until she heard “Break My Soul.” But she was happy with the use, telling Ebony magazine that Beyoncé was “part of my legacy and I’m now part of her legacy.”