Rapped: Eminem is sued over music by a 70-year-old widow

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The Independent Culture

Eminem is among some of the biggest names in the music business being sued by the 70-year-old widow of a B-movie Hollywood composer. Harlene Stein claims that work by her husband, Ronald, was used without credit or payment for a track on the 1999 debut album of the bad-boy white rapper, The Slim Shady LP.

The suit, filed in the federal court last month but made public only this week, has all the marks of a David-and- Goliath affair, with Eminem and Dr Dre, his superstar producer, pitted against the estate of the man who wrote the score for The Bashful Bikini, Diary of a High School Bride, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, Attack of the Crab Monsters and Spider Baby (also known as The Maddest Story Ever Told).

Harlene Stein's complaint is that the Eminem track "Guilty Conscience" uses part of a 24-second music cue her husband wrote for the 1970 film Getting Straight, starring Elliott Gould and Candice Bergen. The credits for The Slim Shady LP acknowledge an "interpolation" of the cue and give a mention to EMI Music, which commissioned the score from Ronald Stein - but they do not credit Stein.

According to the lawsuit EMI appears to have granted permission for the music to be used without telling the Stein estate and without respecting the copyright that the widow claims she holds over her husband's works. The main object of her wrath seems to be EMI Music Publishing, which is named as a co-defendant with Eminem's label Interscope and a colourful array of other rap-world enterprises including something called Aint Nuthin Goin' On But F****n', which is described as "an entity of unknown form with an unknown place of business".

Artists and composers have been complaining for years over instances of big record companies stealing their work without proper credit or compensation. Rap music may be at particular risk because of the genre's propensity for sampling other musical forms.

Appended to the lawsuit is the contract Ronald Stein signed with EMI, clearly granting him the right to royalties from the secondary use of his work on Getting Straight.

The suit does not specify monetary damages, saying these would have to be calculated based on the sales figures from Eminem's album and a video version of the song "Guilty Conscience" which have not yet been made available to the plaintiff's lawyers. Clearly the figure in question is not trivial, since The Slim Shady LP sold more than 5 million copies. In addition, Mrs Stein is seeking punitive damages - also unspecified - and reimbursement of all her legal costs.

The biggest weakness in her suit appears to be that she waited so long to file. Her complaint says she became aware of the use of her husband's work on the Eminem album in September 2000, but does not say why the issue took three years to be raised in court.

Ronald Stein, who died at the age of 58 in 1988, wrote scores for 60-odd films between the mid-1950s and 1970, and supervised musical production for dozens of others thereafter. Educated both in his native St Louis and at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, he was initially rebuffed by the movie industry (one composer at 20th Century Fox responded to a request of his for advice with two words: "Don't come"). Eventually he found work with Roger Corman, the maestro of the B-movie. His most prestigious credits, arguably, were Francis Ford Coppola's The Rain People and Getting Straight. His output was notable mostly for the eccentricity of the film titles. His last score was for Frankenstein's Great Aunt Tillie, in 1984.

Stein once told an interviewer: "I treated every project that I've ever worked on - and some of them have been fairly miserable - with the greatest of respect. My question to myself, always, in any work I've done, was that my contribution had to be equal to or greater than anyone else's individual contribution. That's always been the way I've approached it."