​Complaining Work

​Defending Work

Howard Leslie Pendleton

Just a Blue Box” *

Elizabeth Jane Anderson

“Mama’s Shoe Box”

*This dispute only involved the words to the songs, which are provided in the court opinion below.


Comment by Charles Cronin

This is the first of three similar disputes involving works in the “country” pop music genre that are grounded exclusively on allegations of substantial verbal similarities. Six years after this case Damon Black claimed the “lyrics” of Vern Gosdin’s “Set ‘em Up Joe” infringed upon those of his “The Jukebox”. And nine years later Everett Ellis made a similar allegation claiming Joe Diffie’s “Prop Me Up Beside the Jukebox (If I Die)” infringed upon his “Lay Me Out By the Jukebox When I Die.” None of the three claimants was successful.

In all three cases the courts took notice of the fact that the works shared a musical genre (“country”) and that words of songs in this genre commonly deal with topics and tropes like those found in these contested numbers – jukeboxes indeed. However, does the fact that these topics and tropes are prevalent in a particular musical genre render expressions of them less protectable only when used in works in that genre?

Dolly Parton is an iconic figure in the country music sphere. In the instant case the court noted that the words of one of the defendant’s songs, like the plaintiff’s, referred extensively to Dolly Parton. If the two songs had been in a different musical genre, or different musical genres, would the court have been less likely to categorize the second song as legitimately using the same “idea” of Dolly Parton, and not the plaintiff’s expression associated with it?


District Court Opinion: PDF