On June 16, 2020, a complaint was filed in the Central California District Court on behalf of artist Lenora Antoinette Stines, or better known as “Dr. Stines” in her home country of Jamaica. Dr. Stines is seeking damages against Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, her husband Shawn Carter (better known under his stage name “Jay-Z”), and their touring organization, BJC Touring, Inc. It may come as a shock that anyone would want to pursue legal action against the “Queen Bey” herself, but Dr. Stines feels greatly wronged by the famous couple for their unauthorized use of her voice and words.
This 60-second long monologue can be heard at the beginning of Beyoncé & Jay-Z’s song “Black Effect” from their 2018 collaboration album, Everything Is Love. Not only does Dr. Stines allege that the defendants did not have her consent to use her voice in the five-minute long track, but that she was actually forced to sign a contract that she was unable to review with counsel beforehand. Dr. Stines alleges claims of copyright infringement, violations of Dr. Stines’ rights of publicity, and an alternative claim for unjust enrichment.
Initially, Dr. Stines was propositioned by the defendants in March 2018 to bring dancers to the set of their visual project in Jamaica that they were producing to promote the upcoming album, Everything Is Love. After defendants requested the use of her voice within the promotional video as well, Dr. Stines was under the impression that this use would be isolated to this singular project; claiming she had no idea the audio may later be used for future projects or works. On the day of the video shoot, employees of the defendants told Dr. Stines she “must sign” an agreement before proceeding with the project. Despite asking numerous times to read, review, and send a copy of the agreement to her legal counsel, Dr. Stines was told that there was “not enough time” to go through the formalities and “not to worry” about it.
The complaint goes onto explain that Jay-Z allegedly requested the voice recording of Dr. Stines be added to “Black Effect” while listening to various tracks that were going to be featured on the Everything Is Love album. After the release of said album on June 16, 2018, Dr. Stines discovered the use of her audio on the track and was both shocked and felt taken advantage of by the defendants (Dr. Stines utilizes graphic language to encapsulate her true feelings about the incident). She claims that this use in “Black Effect” was, “deliberate, willful, and in utter disregard of [her] rights.” Moreover, Dr. Stines was not even credited for her contribution to the record, which she claims is the result of unjust profits, gains, and advantages for the Carters.
The argument that Dr. Stines was “forced” to sign a contract has little merit. Of course contracts cannot be entered under duress but duress is usually threats of violence or other imminent harm. Telling someone that they need to sign a contract now is not duress. You can just say no.
Dr. Stines is seeking damages that include an amount in excess of $75,000, an injunction that would properly credit her voice on the track, statutory damages, costs, attorney’s fees, and more. It’s safe to assume that the Carters will not be “Crazy In Love” with allegations coming from this suit.
Author, Shelby Shilatz-Lewis, is going into her third year at Florida State University College of Law with an interest in intellectual property and entertainment law. She is currently a legal intern with Lee Law, PLLC.