American folk song, as performed by Bo Carter
American folk song, as performed by Rod Stewart
Comment by Charles Cronin
Although he avoids mentioning it in his complaint (a complaint for “willful” copyright infringement) the plaintiff is undoubtedly aware that over the past seventy-five years or so many singers have recorded and distributed disparate versions of “Corrina Corrina”. Cal State Fresno’s Ballade Index identifies a recording of the song by “Blind Lemon” Jefferson from as early as 1926 – three years before the plaintiff claims to have obtained a copyright registration for the song.
In short, there is no single or identifiable author for “Corinna Corinna”. The many versions of it – including Rod Stewart’s -- simply represent accretions to a public domain folk song. The work’s folk tradition is underscored by the use of “Corinna Corinna” as the title of a feature film in 1994. The fact that the plaintiff may have been the first to secure and renew a copyright registration for his version of the song doesn’t prevent others from using what appears to be a work in the public domain.
Rod Stewart’s version of the song is no more similar to the plaintiff’s than is any one of the many other extant versions of the work. Rod Stewart, however, has particularly deep pockets, and is, therefore, an attractive target for a speculative suit that might yield a financial settlement as a means to avoid the nuisance of litigation.
We learn from the complaint that Bo Carter, the singer who registered the version of “Corinna” on which this claim is based, was the son of an ex-slave. This information is superfluous as to the issue of infringement, but such recitations are a common ploy by which plaintiffs in music copyright disputes inflect their claims with issues of racial and economic disparity. Rod Stewart may be an opportunist foreigner who has capitalized upon American musical genres, and the lucky coincidence that his native language is that that is spoken in Hollywood (though he carefully suppresses his middle-class English accent in his recording of “Corrina”; American, not English, accents sell pop music). But these attributes, even coupled with his loving preoccupation with his bleached hair, don’t render him liable for copyright infringement.
At plaintiff's behest the case was terminated in Nov. 2015 ("voluntary dismissal without prejudice"). Assuming defendants provided plaintiff a financial settlement, this regrettable outcome likely prompted an identical claim filed against Eric Clapton in 2016.
Plaintiff's Complaint: PDF