No. 28-687, slip op. (E.D. Mich. Oct. 6, 1967)
Retired prize-fighter Lorenzo Packson alleged that the first two measures of his 1962 song, “I’m Afraid,” associated with his New-York based publishing company, were infringed by songwriting trio Brian and Eddie Holland and Lamont Dozier in their Detroit-based Motown hit, “Baby Love,” made popular by the Supremes in 1964. Although Packson recorded “I’m Afraid” and published sheet music for it, neither recording nor sheet music were commercially released, thereby severely limiting access for Motown artists to copy it. Expert witness analyses presented during the 1966 litigation revealed that the two songs were entirely dissimilar with the exception of a “two-note theme,” which was considered unoriginal, and thus unprotectable, when compared to a variety of other recognizable songs, including “Till The End of Time,” as well as the original on which it was based, Chopin’s “Polonaise 46,” and two more popular commercial hits, “Dancing Cheek to Cheek,” and “It Might As Well Be Spring.” The court ultimately granted Motown’s motion to dismiss because “the two compositions have an entirely different structure, melodic line, accompaniment and lyric. The two compositions do not sound alike upon a playing of the melody lines alone, the melody lines with the respective accompaniments as written or in vocal rendition.”
Like many cases heard before and after it, Packson v. Jobete raised critical questions regarding access, originality, and de minimis thresholds for infringement. Despite Motown’s high-profile involvement and detailed expert analyses contextualizing the songs in relation to prior art, the case appears to have had limited, if any, impact on copyright jurisprudence. It did capture the attention of archivists at the Chicago branch of the National Archives and Records Administration, however, where the court records are housed. For a detailed analysis of existing records, including quotes from litigation testimony, see the blog post, “Motown Was Not Afraid,” by Katie Dishman, here.
Court Order Granting Summary Judgement (1967): PDF