Attorney Steve® Music Law Essentials - Top Music Infringement Cases
Copyright law is a complex and ever-evolving area of law that applies to the creative works of artists, writers, musicians, and other creators. When it comes to music, copyright law gives creators exclusive rights to control how their work is used and distributed, and to be compensated for its use. Copyright law grants creators certain exclusive rights, such as the right to reproduce the work, distribute it, make derivative works, and publicly perform or display it. These rights are intended to protect and reward creators for their hard work, and to promote creativity and expression.
In the United States, copyright law is governed by the Copyright Act of 1976, which lays out the exclusive rights granted to copyright holders and sets out the conditions under which their works can be used. Copyright protection begins when the work is created and does not require registration or any other formalities. When it comes to music, copyright law grants two types of rights: the right of public performance and the right of reproduction. The right of public performance gives the copyright holder the exclusive right to control when, where, and how their music is played in public. The right of reproduction gives the copyright holder the exclusive right to reproduce their music in any form, including copies, recordings, and digital downloads.
In addition to the exclusive rights granted by copyright law, there are also certain exceptions and limitations. For example, Fair Use is an important exception that allows for the use of copyrighted material for certain purposes, such as criticism, commentary, or research. Given the complexity of copyright law and the ever-changing legal landscape, it is important for creators to understand the basics of copyright law and to stay up to date on any new developments. Understanding the rights and limitations of copyright law can help ensure that creators get the recognition and compensation they deserve for their creative works.
This blog discusses some of the key cases in music law over the years.
Important Music Caselaw
In 1990, the estate of Roy Orbison filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against the rap group 2 Live Crew for their song “Pretty Woman” which sampled Orbison's classic hit “Oh, Pretty Woman” without authorization. The case was heard in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida. The court found that 2 Live Crew's sampling of Orbison's song was not a fair use of the original work, and that the rap group's reworking of the song was substantially similar.
The court held that 2 Live Crew's use of the song was not transformative and that it was a direct copy of the original composition. The court also held that the commercial success of 2 Live Crew's song was due in large part to the fact that it was based on Orbison's song. The court also found that 2 Live Crew's use of Orbison's song was not a parody as the members of 2 Live Crew had not attempted to comment on or criticize Orbison's work. As a result, the court held that 2 Live Crew's use of Orbison's song was not protected by the doctrine of fair use. As such, 2 Live Crew was liable for copyright infringement and the court awarded damages to Orbison's estate in the amount of $250,000.
The Roy Orbison vs. 2 Live Crew case set an important precedent in copyright law by clearly defining the limits of fair use when it comes to sampling and remixing. The case also helped to establish the importance of seeking permission before using another artist's work. This case serves as a reminder that artists must be aware of copyright laws when creating new works and seeking permission for the use of others' works. It also serves as a reminder that when creating new works, artists must ensure that their works are sufficiently different from the original works of other artists in order to avoid liability for copyright infringement.
The dispute between Spirit and Led Zeppelin began in 2014 when the surviving members of Spirit, a rock band from the 1960s, sued Led Zeppelin for copyright infringement. Spirit alleged that Led Zeppelin had copied portions of their 1968 instrumental song, “Taurus”, in their 1971 hit single, “Stairway to Heaven”. The case went to trial in 2016 and after several appeals, the Supreme Court ultimately denied Spirit's petition to hear the case in 2019. The dispute began in 2014 when the members of Spirit, a psychedelic rock band from the 1960s, sued Led Zeppelin for copyright infringement.
The band alleged that Led Zeppelin had copied portions of their 1968 instrumental song, “Taurus”, in their 1971 hit single, “Stairway to Heaven”. Spirit argued that the two songs were substantially similar and that Led Zeppelin had infringed upon their copyright by incorporating the melody, chords, and other elements of their song into “Stairway to Heaven”. Led Zeppelin denied the allegations and asserted that they had never heard “Taurus” prior to creating “Stairway to Heaven”.
The band also argued that the songs weren't substantially similar, and that they had created “Stairway to Heaven” independently. In 2016, the case went to trial in Los Angeles, and the jury ruled in favor of Led Zeppelin. Spirit appealed the decision, but the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the jury's verdict in 2018. Spirit then petitioned the Supreme Court to hear the case, but their petition was denied in 2019. The Supreme Court's decision put an end to the dispute between Spirit and Led Zeppelin, with Led Zeppelin ultimately prevailing.
In the early 1990s, a dispute arose between Queen and David Bowie and artist Vanilla Ice regarding the use of a sample from the Queen and Bowie song “Under Pressure.” This sample was used in Vanilla Ice's song “Ice Ice Baby.” As a result of the unauthorized use of the sample, Queen and Bowie took legal action against Vanilla Ice. Initially, Vanilla Ice argued that he had not used a sample from the song, but instead had “interpolated” portions of the song. Interpolation is the practice of taking a sample from another song and re-recording it to create a new piece. However, this argument was rejected in court and it was determined that he had indeed used a sample from the song without authorization.
The court found that Vanilla Ice had infringed upon Queen and Bowie's copyright by using the sample, and ordered him to pay damages for the unauthorized use. Queen and Bowie also sought an injunction against Vanilla Ice, which would have prevented him from further utilizing the sample in his music. However, this injunction was denied as the court believed that Vanilla Ice had already gained substantial benefit from the sample and further damages would not be necessary.
In the end, the court ruled that Vanilla Ice had infringed upon Queen and Bowie's copyright and ordered him to pay damages for the unauthorized use of the sample. Although the injunction was denied, this case serves as an important reminder of the importance of obtaining permission before utilizing another artist's work. It also highlights the need for artists to be aware of the potential consequences of copyright infringement.
In 1997, The Rolling Stones sued The Verve, claiming that the British rock band had infringed on their copyright in their single “Bitter Sweet Symphony”. The Rolling Stones alleged that the Verve had used a sample of their song “The Last Time” without permission. The Verve denied the allegations and argued that they had obtained a license from the publisher that owned the rights to the Rolling Stones' song. The case was brought before the High Court of England and Wales.
The court found that the Verve had indeed infringed on the copyright of The Rolling Stones and ordered the band to pay an undisclosed sum of money to the Rolling Stones. The court noted that the Verve had copied a substantial part of the Rolling Stones' song without permission and that this was a violation of copyright law. The court also noted that the Verve had acted in bad faith by not obtaining a license from the publisher of the Rolling Stones' song. The court stated that the Verve had failed to take reasonable steps to determine if they had the authorization to use the sample.
The court also noted that the band had not made any attempts to negotiate a license with the Rolling Stones, which could have been done to avoid a copyright infringement lawsuit. The Rolling Stones were ultimately awarded a substantial sum of money and all of the songwriting royalties for “Bitter Sweet Symphony”. This ruling set a precedent in copyright law for future cases involving sampling, as it established the importance of obtaining permission and negotiating a license when using a sample from another song.
The Rolling Stones vs. The Verve case was a landmark case in copyright law that established the importance of obtaining permission and negotiating a license when sampling another song. The court found that the Verve had acted in bad faith by not obtaining a license from the publisher of the Rolling Stones' song and awarded the band a substantial sum of money and all of the songwriting royalties for “Bitter Sweet Symphony.” This ruling has since been used as a precedent in future cases involving sampling and copyright infringement.
The case of Creedence Clearwater Revival vs. John Fogerty is one of the most well-known and influential cases in the history of the music industry. The case began in 1972, when John Fogerty, lead singer and songwriter of Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR), was sued by his former bandmates, Stu Cook and Doug Clifford, for allegedly failing to properly credit them as co-authors of the band's songs. The case was litigated in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, and the dispute revolved around the songwriting credits for CCR's biggest hits, “Proud Mary” and “Bad Moon Rising.”
The original complaint claimed that Fogerty had failed to properly credit Cook and Clifford as co-authors of the songs, thus depriving them of royalties. Cook and Clifford also claimed that Fogerty had breached his fiduciary duty to the band by failing to notify them of the songwriting credits. The complaint also alleged that Fogerty had committed fraud by withholding the songwriting credits from the other members of the band. The court found in favor of Cook and Clifford, awarding them a total of $1.3 million in damages from Fogerty.
The court held that Fogerty had acted in bad faith by not properly crediting Cook and Clifford as co-authors of the songs, and that he had engaged in a breach of fiduciary duty by not informing them of the songwriting credits. The court also found that Fogerty had committed fraud by intentionally withholding the songwriting credits from Cook and Clifford.
The case of Creedence Clearwater Revival vs. John Fogerty established a precedent for songwriting credits in the music industry, with the court ruling that songwriters must give proper credit to their co-authors. The case also demonstrated the importance of proper attribution and the need for musicians to adhere to their fiduciary duties when it comes to their music. The case of Creedence Clearwater Revival vs. John Fogerty is one of the most significant cases in the history of the music industry.
It set a precedent for how songwriting credits should be attributed, and it established the importance of musicians adhering to their fiduciary duties. The case also serves as a reminder that musicians must always ensure that their co-authors are properly credited, or they may face legal action.
In the late 1960s, songwriter Chuck Berry brought a lawsuit against John Lennon and Yoko Ono's record label Apple Records. Berry was seeking recognition and payment for the use of his song “You Can't Catch Me” in the Beatles' song “Come Together.” This case would become one of the most famous copyright disputes in music history. Berry argued that Lennon had taken the chorus of his song and used it as the basis for “Come Together.” Berry had not given permission for Lennon to do this, nor had he received any payment for it. Lennon, on the other hand, maintained that he had used the lyrics in a completely different way and that he had not infringed upon Berry's copyright. The case went to court in 1971.
The presiding judge ruled that Lennon had indeed infringed upon Berry's copyright and ordered Lennon to pay a settlement to Berry. The amount of the settlement was not disclosed to the public. The case was significant because it established a legal precedent for copyright infringement in the music industry. It showed that musicians could not simply take another artist's work and use it without permission and without paying them for it. The case also affected the relationship between Lennon and Berry. Prior to the lawsuit, Berry and Lennon had been friends, but the lawsuit caused a rift between them.
Lennon felt that Berry had betrayed him and was angry at Berry for suing him. Berry, on the other hand, felt that Lennon had violated his copyright and deserved to be compensated for it. The case of Chuck Berry vs. John Lennon was a landmark case in the music industry. It established that songwriters had the right to protect their work and receive payment for its use. It also showed that musicians needed to be aware of copyright law and take steps to protect their work from being used without permission. The case also had a negative impact on the relationship between Berry and Lennon, resulting in a rift that lasted for many years.
The Chiffons vs. George Harrison was a copyright infringement case that took place in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York in 1973. The case concerned the unauthorized use of The Chiffons 1963 single “He's So Fine” by George Harrison in his 1970 song “My Sweet Lord.”
The Chiffons were an American girl group who had released their hit single, “He's So Fine,” in 1963. The song quickly became a hit and was included on their debut album, Sweet Talkin' Guy. The song was written by Ronald Mack, who was inspired by the gospel hymn “Oh Happy Day.” George Harrison was a member of the Beatles and had released his first solo album, All Things Must Pass, in 1970.
The album was mostly composed of original songs written by Harrison, including the single “My Sweet Lord.” The song was a spiritual tribute to Krishna, but it had a similar melody to “He's So Fine.” In 1973, the Bright Tunes Music Corporation, which owned the copyright to “He's So Fine,” sued George Harrison for copyright infringement.
The case was heard by Judge Irving Kaufman in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. The two parties argued that Harrison had either knowingly or unknowingly copied “He's So Fine” when writing “My Sweet Lord.” In his ruling, Judge Kaufman found that Harrison had “subconsciously” copied “He's So Fine” when writing “My Sweet Lord.” He awarded $1.6 million in damages, which was later reduced to $587,000. The case was widely seen as a warning to musicians to be careful to avoid copying the work of others. The case also had a lasting effect on copyright law.
After the case, the concept of “subconscious copying” was recognized in copyright law and the case was cited in numerous other copyright infringement cases. The case also helped to highlight the importance of understanding copyright law and the need to properly credit songwriters and composers. Overall, The Chiffons vs. George Harrison was an important case that helped to clarify the concept of copyright infringement and the importance of understanding copyright law. The case was widely cited in other cases involving copyright infringement and had a lasting effect on copyright law.
In 2013, the heirs of Marvin Gaye filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against singers Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams, alleging that their song “Blurred Lines” infringed on Gaye's 1977 song “Got to Give It Up”. The case was heard in the United States District Court for the Central District of California and ultimately decided in favor of Gaye's family, with the court ordering Thicke and Williams to pay $7.3 million in damages.
The case centered around the issue of whether the two songs were similar enough that they should be considered copyright infringement. Gaye's heirs argued that the songs had many similarities, including the overall feel and style, the melody, the rhythm, and the structure.
Thicke and Williams argued that the songs were not similar enough to constitute copyright infringement, and that any similarities were merely coincidental. In order to determine if the songs were similar enough to constitute copyright infringement, the court looked at a number of factors, including the level of creativity involved in the two works and the extent of their similarity. The court ultimately determined that the songs were similar enough to constitute infringement.
The court held that both songs had a similar feel and style and that their structures were similar enough to constitute infringement. Additionally, the court found that the melody, rhythm, and harmony of the two songs were similar enough to constitute infringement. The court also found that Thicke and Williams had access to Gaye's song, as it was widely available and had been covered by other artists, and that they had copied elements of the song in creating “Blurred Lines”. Based on these findings, the court ordered Thicke and Williams to pay $7.3 million in damages to Gaye's family.
The case of Marvin Gaye vs. Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams was an important case for the music industry, as it clarified the boundaries of copyright infringement. The case made clear that copying elements of another person's work can constitute infringement, even if the two works are not identical. Furthermore, the case showed that even widely available works can be subject to copyright protection, and that creators should be aware of the potential for copyright infringement when creating their own works.
The Turtles vs. De La Soul is a landmark case that pitted two influential and iconic hip-hop acts against each other in a legal battle over copyright and sampling. The case began in 1991 when The Turtles, an American rock band from the 1960s, sued De La Soul, a pioneering hip-hop group from the 1980s, for sampling their 1967 song “You Showed Me” in De La Soul's 1989 song “Plug Tunin'”. The Turtles argued that De La Soul had violated their copyright, as they had not sought permission to sample the song.
De La Soul argued that they had not violated copyright law because they did not use a substantial portion of the original song. The Turtles sought damages in the form of unpaid royalties, as well as an injunction to prevent De La Soul from continuing to use the sample. The case ultimately went to trial before a federal judge in California in 1993. The judge ruled in favor of The Turtles and ordered De La Soul to pay damages of more than $1.7 million. The judge ruled that De La Soul had violated copyright law because their use of the sample amounted to a “substantial part” of the original work.
The judge also ordered De La Soul to cease using the sample and to pay The Turtles all the unpaid royalties from their use of the sample. The case was a major victory for The Turtles and set a legal precedent that has been cited in many subsequent cases involving sampling and copyright law. It established that artists cannot simply sample a portion of another artist's work without seeking permission or paying royalties.
It also established that a sample does not have to be a substantial portion of the original work in order to be considered a copyright violation. The case was also noteworthy for the fact that it pitted two iconic hip-hop acts against each other. Though The Turtles were a rock band from the 1960s and De La Soul were a hip-hop group from the 1980s, the case highlighted the fact that the two genres had been deeply intertwined since the early days of hip-hop. The case also provided a unique example of two different generations of musicians coming together to fight for the rights of artists in the face of unchecked corporate interests.
The Turtles vs. De La Soul was a landmark case that established important legal precedents and demonstrated the power of artists to come together and fight for their rights. It also highlighted the fact that the lines between different musical genres are often blurred and that hip-hop, rock, and other genres have been deeply intertwined since the early days of hip-hop. The case serves as an important reminder of the importance of copyright law and the need for artists to protect their work from unauthorized use.
In 1966, Chuck Berry sued the Beach Boys for copyright infringement for their song “Surfin' USA”. Berry claimed that the song was too similar to his song “Sweet Little Sixteen” and that the Beach Boys had copied his guitar riff without permission. The Beach Boys argued that the similarities were coincidental and that Berry had no original copyright on the guitar riff. The case went to court and eventually, Berry was awarded an undisclosed sum of money. The similarities between the two songs were undeniable.
Both songs had the same melody, similar lyrics, and the same guitar riff. Additionally, both songs were recorded in the same key and had the same tempo. Further, both songs contained the same lyrics in their choruses. The court case was tried in the United States District Court of the Southern District of California. The case was tried before the Honorable Robert M. Takasugi.
The Beach Boys were represented by attorneys Howard Weitzman and John H. Hall Jr. while Berry was represented by attorney Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr. At trial, the Beach Boys argued that the similarities between the two songs were coincidental and that Berry had no original copyright on the guitar riff. However, the court found that Berry did in fact have a valid copyright and that the Beach Boys' song was an infringement.
The court also noted that the Beach Boys had access to the Berry song and that the similarities were too close to be coincidental. Ultimately, the court found in favor of Chuck Berry and awarded him an undisclosed sum of money. The Beach Boys were also ordered to pay Berry's attorney's fees and court costs.
This case set a precedent for copyright infringement and has served as a warning to all artists that they should always obtain permission before copying another artist's work. Chuck Berry vs. the Beach Boys serves as a reminder of the importance of respecting copyright law. It is important that artists understand that they need to obtain permission before copying the work of another artist and that they can be held liable for copyright infringement if they do not.
This case also serves as an example of how the law can protect original works of art and ensure that the creators of those works are properly compensated.
Contact a California/Arizona Copyright Music Attorney
Ensuring you are properly protecting and enforcing your music copyright is a crucial element of being an artist. Consulting with a music copyright lawyer will ensure that your copyright is registered and secured, guard against copyright infringement, and advise you of the proper procedures to take for copyright takedowns or if your song has been used for sampling. No matter what style of music or level of success you have achieved in the industry, having a dependable copyright lawyer at your side ensures that your creation remains safe and secure.
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