​Complaining Work

​Defending Work

Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne

“I Won’t Back Down”

Hear Recording​

Sam Smith

“Stay With Me”

Hear Recording

 

Comment by Charles Cronin

 

The aptly named Petty brings to mind Robert Pattison’s observations on superannuated rock stars:

 

“He becomes the creature of his managers, who haul him about the countryside by plane, bus, and truck like so much cabbage, displaying him at $15 a ticket to coliseums packed with exploited adolescents… When the cash men have extracted the last drop of vitality from his fast-graying pulp, the sellout wakes from his stupor to discover he is a sodden has-been.  His fans have deserted him, his Porsche has been repossessed, and his new manager is named Ron Giboni, a character reeking of cologne and swathed in gold chains who has booked him on a farewell tour of the Middle East.” (Triumph of Vulgarity, p 149).

 

Tom Petty’s website indicates the performer has had no public appearances since 2008.  Apparently, rather than working to shore up his finances, he opted to extract money from a wealthier, younger performer through allegations of misappropriation.

 

The similarities between the songs devolve to a single repeating 3-note descending motif that can be heard in innumerable pop songs.  Defendant Sam Smith declared he had never heard Petty’s song prior to creating his own, a statement Petty apparently endorsed when he issued a statement (after securing a portion of the profits of Sam Smith’s song) that “these things happen… nothing more than a musical accident.”  But this suggests that both parties believed that any musical similarities between the songs were independently generated, and independent creation is an absolute defense to a claim of copyright infringement.

 

Perhaps 30 years hence Sam Smith will be reduced to performing petty shakedowns of those who have superseded him financially and otherwise.  But the most regrettable aspect of this dispute is that Sam Smith accommodated a baseless claim through financial appeasement thereby setting a precedent for similar future predations on other pop stars. It is reported by The Sun that the parties quietly settled, resulting in a 12.5% royalty payment to Petty and the singer-composer Jeff-Lynne. It is really worth dishing out royalties to avoid a court battle?