The Music Copyright Infringement Resource provides documentation and commentary relating to litigated music copyright infringement disputes. InPlay covers ongoing and recent cases in the U.S. and abroad, including some that may not proceed to trial. These disputes often involve well-known popular musicians, and raise questions that are broadly interesting about copyright law and popular music. The disputes covered here will migrate to the main case list once settled, or finally disposed of through litigation.
Apple is caught up in a dispute involving a song used in the TV series “Amazing Stories,” which debuted on Apple TV+. Jackson Darell, the plaintiff who does business as JED Productions, claims that his song “Side Show” was used in one episode without permission.
Rapper 6ix9ine is sued for copyright infringement over his 2018 song “Stoopid.” Another rapper, Seth Gordon, alleges that the song opens with a snippet performed by him without his permission. According to Gordon, the snippet was a “radio drop” he recorded for another company. It’s worth noting that 6ix9ine re-uploaded a music video of “Stoopid” without the disputed snippet to his YouTube page.
One of the hottest songs of 2019, “Circles,” is now the subject of a lawsuit between artist Post Malone and alleged co-writer Tyler Armes. Armes claims that Post Malone refused to credit Armes as a songwriter on the track, despite Armes playing an integral role in the songwriting process. This case is still in its early stages, and whether the dispute will continue to go in “circles” remains to be seen.
“Joyful noise”? That would be Katy Perry’s shriek of relief upon learning that the District Court judge recently overturned the jury verdict finding her liable for infringement. On April 13, 2020, after “weighing his options” Gray opted to appeal Judge Christina Snyder’s decision to the Ninth Circuit. An audacious, if not contrarian, approach given that Snyder’s opinion relies heavily on the Ninth Circuit’s en banc opinion in the factually similar Zeppelin dispute.
A case attempting to capitalize upon Jimmy Page’s mid-brow “anthem” “Stairway to Heaven.” After a decade or so of litigation, Led Zeppelin prevailed when an en banc Ninth Circuit upheld a jury verdict finding that song did not infringe the plaintiff’s “Taurus”.
The Gayes’ recent gambit seeking to extract an additional payout from the deep pocket of Pharrell Williams, alleging that statements he made in a Nov. 2019 interview contradict his testimony during the infringement trial against him and Robin Thicke. They make the extravagant claim that by this purported inconsistency Williams perjured himself at trial, which is grounds for this peculiar demand for attorney’s fees.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this dispute is the plaintiff’s (i.e. his attorney’s) incapacity to articulate a colorable claim of infringement, and to comply with fundamental standards to serve the defendant’s. A quick glance at the docket entries reveals dozens of filings reflecting efforts to correct plaintiff’s missteps. Let’s hope the sharply-worded letter from defendants’ to plaintiff’s counsel of April 2020 (posted on the case page) may dissuade plaintiff from further pursuing this matter.
Kraftwerk’s claim that defendant Setlur illicitly copied a 2-second snippet of its electronic sounds was ultimately reviewed by the European Court of Justice. The ECJ ruled that if a defendant’s sampling of a protected sound recording resulted in a “modified form unrecognizable to the ear,” it might not be considered infringing. While this holding may provide momentary relief to musicians who sample, the ECJ remanded the case to the German Federal High Court of Justice, which will issue a final decision on the merits.
In a rare case of a DMCA 512(f) suit, Brown, founder award-winning country band Zac Brown Band, sues Tedder, internationally-renowned songwriter, for sending an allegedly false takedown notice for the band’s release of track “Nowhere to Go,” which Brown and Tedder wrote together. In the middle of the writing process, Tedder allegedly “ghosted” Brown and his initial composition of the song to producer Diplo. When Brown released his version of the song, Tedder filed a takedown notice. This clash involving such big names over songwriting rights is bound to lead to interesting developments for the music industry.
“French Leave” by” French Montana”? Music Producer Eddie Lee Richardson (“Hotwire the Producer”) alleges “French Montana” made a literal copy of a sonic arrangement he had posted online and used it as the background for his “Ain’t Worried About Nothin'” (apparently, and extraordinarily, a highly popular number despite its racially offensive words).
A trio of British songwriters alleged that “A Lonely Night,” by RnB artist The Weeknd, copied their song “I Need to Love.” The Weeknd attempted to have the suit dismissed, but the court denied the motion and instead required the defendant to respond to the complaint. Could this be another case creating more “Blurred Lines” for the music industry? Only time will tell.
New Day Worldwide, owner of all works written by singer-songwriter Jesse Graham, filed a complaint against Taylor Swift alleging Swift’s “Shake it Off” infringed upon Jesse Graham’s “Haters gone Hate” lyrics. New Day Worldwide alleges Swift’s lyrics “Cause the players gonna play, play, play[;] And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate” appropriated Graham’s copyrighted lyrics “Haters gone hate[,] Haters gone hate, Playas gone play Playas gone play, watch out for them fakers- they’ll fake you everyday[.]”
William Key of Yellowcard filed suit against Jarad Higgins, a Chicago rapper also known as Juice WRLD, New Day Worldwide, for allegedly infringing upon melodic elements from Yellowcard’s “Holly Wood Died”, including the vocal melody.
Detroit singer Lizzo wants a federal judge to declare that brothers Raisen are not co-writers of her hit song Truth Hurts. Despite drawn-out attempts to settle this dispute quietly, hostilities have crescendoed quickly with one of the Raisen brothers airing the matter on Instagram, and Lizzo’s attorneys valiantly responding in other media.
Two Atlanta-based producers filed a complaint against novelty-rap-star-turned-revolutionary Lil Nas X and his collaborators over one of their latest releases, alleging they infringed upon a beat and chord progression they created for use in another hip-hop track.
Rocket Boys shooting for the sky, legally speaking. The authors of the musical “Rocket Boys” have sued Marriott over its stage adaptation of Universal Pictures “October Sky” alleging infringement of music, lyrics, and scenes of their work.
Plaintiff Samuel Nicholas claims Defendants A. Pigott (“BlaqNmilD”), Aubrey Drake Graham (“Drake”), et al. infringed upon a “beat” he authored called “Roll Call (Instrumental)”. BlaqNmilD’s “That beat” has featured in several songs he co-produced for Drake and Big Freedia, which may potentially result in liability for many parties named in the complaint.
A young girl’s adoptive parents hoping for a windfall from Kanye West. This performer, in his song “Ultralight Beam”, incorporated a snippet of a recording taken by the child’s biological mother, of her gesticulations and prayerful exclamations in excitement over an upcoming road trip to Atlanta.
A curious and confused claim of infringement of a musical work based on what may have been defendants’ sampling of an insignificant portion of a recorded performance of the work, which was made prior to establishment of federal copyright protection for sound recordings in 1972.
The Complaint is refreshingly concise, but it appears to be so mainly because it offers no factual bases for its sweeping and ambiguous allegations of copyright infringement.
Remarkable: the circumstances in this case are atypical of music copyright infringement disputes, and this claim appears to have merit. Think twice before booking a flight on Virgin Atlantic.
“Frozen” — I have muddled recollections of seeing it play repeatedly on the seat back screen of parents with children during an interminable flight to LAX… Read Niall Fordyce’s comment for a musically and legally sharp discussion of this dispute and its merits and/or demerits.
Another embarrassing Complaint that makes sweeping allegations of infringement, including defendant’s unauthorized public display (?!) of the plaintiff’s song, with nary a word of factual support grounded in information about musical similarity.
This claim is based on nothing more than a few stylistic similarities, but it does offer one the guilty pleasure of watching and hearing Bruno Mars’ cool and slick performance of “Uptown Funk”.
A dispute not about music but about defendants’ use of a few words similar to those used by the plaintiff: “playas” (not referring to beaches), “haters”, etc. that apparently hold ambiguous and far-ranging meanings to young pop music fans.
“Turn down for what?” For failure to state a claim… Better yet, “turn them in” — the plaintiffs that is, for bringing nuisance suits like this one that waste taxpayer money in hopes of extracting a monetary settlement from deep-pocketed defendants.
Another infringement claim based not on any musical commonalities, but merely the defendant’s similarly repetitive use of the indelicate expression “party and bullshit”.
Poor pop singer John Newman — another embodiment of the aphorism “Have a hit, get a writ”. In this case a claim based on the fact that his breakout number “Love Me Again” used the commonplace phrase “I need to know” that an aspiring singer in Las Vegas once also used.
This claim of infringement involving two rap songs is based on alleged musical similarities of tempo, harmonic mode, “syncopated rhythms”, etc. Even if the allegation of this constellation of similarities were true, the musical attributes in question are so elemental that permitting one party to monopolize a particular combination of them would lead to further perplexity and inhibition on the part of songwriters.
An unusual dispute involving questions whether defendant’s work qualified as a “cover” of the plaintiffs’ under the Copyright Act’s compulsory license provision, and whether informal email and personal exchanges regarding permission to use plaintiffs’ protected expression could be the basis of an express or implied license.
The defendant’s motion to dismiss suggests that the plaintiffs’ attorneys may have been unclear about the importance of registration formalities under the 1909 Copyright Act. An interesting dispute involving not a question of substantial similarity, but of equity and statutory compliance.
An rare example of a dispute in which the defendant appears deliberately to have copied the entire protected musical expression of another’s work, with no recourse to a defense of parody or fair use.
It is unclear from the complaint whether the basis of the plaintiffs’ claim is alleged sampling of the plaintiffs’ recorded song, or infringement of the underlying musical work of that recording. Unambiguous, however, is the incentive for the claim: the defendants’ “triple platinum”recording.
A claim, based mainly on similar sounds, that Porsche and its advertising agency deliberately sought to avoid payment of royalties by deploying in its ad for the Cayman 718 a “sound alike” version of a rock song owned by the plaintiff.
This claim is another example of the deleterious fallout of the “Blurred Lines” verdict (now under appeal) in which the jury’s finding of liability was based on similarities of non-protectable stylistic features rather than copyrightable musical expression.
A claim identical to that lodged against Rod Stewart in 2015 (see below) but in a different forum, and by a different attorney. Equally speculative, and apparently similarly prompted by the perception of an opportunity to shake down a hugely successful performer for his use of public domain material.
Remarkable claim based on “musical” similarities involving the use of the sound of hand clapping interspersed with that of a bass drum, evoking the noisome ambiance of a high school football game.
The songs in question are by Marvin Gaye and Ed Sheeran, respectively. Like the recently filed claim by Harrington against Sheeran (see below) Griffin’s claim lacks merit, and appears to be merely a “copycat” claim instigated by the recent success of Gaye’s heirs in their dispute with Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams.
According to the complaint, the plaintiff Alex Greggs has worked behind the scenes assisting well-known pop singers in assembling their songs. It is surprising, therefore, that someone undoubtedly familiar with the sound and word-focussed approach to the creation of popular music today would assert an infringement claim based upon a slim reed of musical similarity. This appears to be another case in which topical (verbal) similarity kindled a suspicion — and zeal to identify — musical similarity.
Perhaps emboldened by the jury verdict he obtained in the claim he brought against Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke, Nashville’s Richard Busch has brought an equally groundless infringement claim against another highly successful – and therefore financially vulnerable – new pop star, Ed Sheeran.
Feeling spurned, or at least somehow cheated, Darlene Love claims that Scripps’ licensed use of her recording of a performance of a song infringed her right of publicity associated with her voice. Love owned no copyright in the song, and was divested through assignment, of any copyright interest in her recording, for which she was compensated. In fact, Love’s voice is not that distinctive, and the song has been recorded by other well-known entertainers. She seems to be suggesting, therefore, that the public has come to associate her, and not specifically the sound of her voice, with the song “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” that Scripps used in its advertisement.
This dispute suggests the corollary that the greater the fame (and wealth) of a pop star, the more likely musical infringement claims against him will have a flimsy base. Whereas Cirque du Soleil’s claim (below) involved six pitches; this one against Bieber et al. involves only four.
It is safe to assume that any “double platinum” album will be the target of an attempt to siphon some of its financial profit. Cirque du Soleil is not a typical plaintiff — an under-the-radar musician. But the grounds of its claim — six pitches — is typical of the absurdly tenuous bases of infringement allegations, now commonplace, especially when sampling is involved
This inane claim is likely a regrettable outcome of the recent infringement case against Robin Thicke in which generic sonic commonalities between two songs were the basis for a musically know-nothing jury’s finding of liability for copyright infringement.
A misguided attempt to capitalize upon a public domain blues number based upon a copyright registration from 1929 of a particular variant of the work.
Sanctions and disbarment proceedings initiated by Judge Paul Diamond — an admirable reaction to plaintiff’s attorney’s attempt to extort a financial settlement from deep-pocketed defendants.
Superannuated rocker’s exaction of profits from an independently created song by Sam Smith.
Richard Friedman’s claim of copyright infringement and violation of moral rights (!?) based on alleged unauthorized use of a portion of his stock muzak in the movie “12 Years a Slave.”
Black Keys v. Home Depot; Black Keys v. Pizza Hut (2012)
The Black Keys sued Pizza Hut and Home Depot for allegedly using two of their hit songs in national television commercials.
Tuf America (“Trouble Funk”) v. Diamond et al. (“Beastie Boys”) (2012)
A case involving the Beastie Boys and their alleged unauthorized use of samples from several Trouble Funk songs.
An interesting case between an Iranian band and a Bollywood musician associated with the Agent Vinod action” series. From Barobax’s documents it appears that Chakroborty sampled the plaintiff’s work, and was heavily influenced by it. Curiously — regrettably? — plaintiffs withdrew their claim when the defendant threatened criminal charges against them.
Mather’s claim that Audi’s advertisement — obviously derivative of one Mathers earlier participated in for Chrysler — infringes on his protected expression.
In August 2010 election officials in Haiti decided that pop singer Wyclef Jean was ineligible to run for president, presumably because he did not meet residency requirements for presidential candidates.(www.thesmokinggun.com) reports that Wyclef Jean lives in a McMansion in Saddle River, New Jersey – where Nixon retired – and that his Haiti passport has likely spent most of the past five years – residency term requirement in Haiti – in a desk drawer in the Garden State.) In November 2010 Jean was saddled with another legal quandary, this time in the form of a revived copyright infringement claim by Martel Ellis, a singer apparently well-known as “Blah-zay”. Jean is a seasoned litigant, however, having fielded no fewer than three other copyright infringement claims between 2000 and 2008.
Yes, that really is the plaintiff’s name… Batt’s claim concerns “Black Eyed Peas’” “Boom Boom Pow” and her “Boom Dynamite”.
The regrettable power of suggestion… Not long after Batts filed suit against “Black Eyed Peas” another little-known pop musician from Texas claimed that the band’s “I Gotta Feeling” infringed the copyright of his ambient rock number “Take a Dive”. Plaintiff Bryan Pringle is represented by the same lawyers working on Batt’s claim – it would be interesting to learn the fee arrangement terms Batts and Pringle have negotiated with these lawyers.
A claim filed in a U.S. District Court in California in April, 2009. The dispute involves alleged unauthorized sampling of plaintiff’s work by defendant Usher Raymond in his recording of “Burn”.
A claim Joe Satriani, a guitar player, based on Coldplay’s popular “Viva la Vida”. The parties settled in September, 2009.
A dispute involving a Red Sox pep tune by local Boston musician Samuel Steele and a song performed by Jon Bongiovi for a television commercial. In August, 2009 a U.S. District Court in Massachusetts held for Bongiovi et al. by granting defendants’ request for summary judgement.
Domino Records v. Interscope Geffen A & M Records [Schnauss v. “Guns N’ Roses”] (2009)
The UK’s Domino Records filed a complaint in New York against the pop group “Guns N’ Roses” for unauthorized sampling of a recording Domino distributes, of electronically produced sounds put together by Ulrich Schnauss of Germany.