"Takes All Night"
"One Last Time"
Comment by Charles Cronin
Greggs’ complaint makes a great show of marshaling purported musical similarities between his and Ariana Grande’s songs, but the most apparent commonality between the works is their topics. Both songs express the singer’s interest in a hook-up, or one-night stand, with a particular individual. This subject has been used in popular music since time immemorial, the verbal expression of the topic in the two songs is dissimilar, and there are no grounds for an infringement claim based on the lyrics of the songs.
The topical similarity, however, appears to have goaded Greggs to attempt to ferret out musical similarities between the works (a regrettably common progression in these disputes.) The complaint alleges that the “hooks” of the choruses of the songs have a similar melodic contour. This allegation is true: both share a melodic arc of handful of pitches occupying a measure or two. The larger musical contexts in which these hooks occur, and the manner in which they are performed, however, render them thoroughly dissimilar to the listener.
On this point, the complaint suggests: “Although the rhythm of the two compositions may differ to accommodate the prosody of the lyrics, there is substantial similarity on [sic] the most important rhythmic placement of the pitches on strong melodic and harmonic beats (1 and 3), which are what the listener perceives as most definitive of melody and, to a lesser extent, the harmonic accompaniment to a given melody.” The mangled second clause of this assertion appears to weaken the plaintiff’s case for melodic misappropriation. Given that in a common time (4/4) meter the first and third beats are typically emphasized, the fact that the verbal and melodic settings of both songs adhere to this norm is irrelevant on the question of similarity.
The complaint asserts that: “The harmonic background remains the same in both songs for the entire sixteen measures of the chorus.” The “harmonic background” of the choruses of both songs consists of nothing more than the repetition of a couple of alternating chords, and contains no original or protectable expression.
The complaint also notes: the introductions of both songs contain elements of their choruses; that the tempo and “orchestration of the rhythmic accompaniment” [i.e. the canned percussion track] are similar, as is the “use of contrasting bridge material.” These elements, whether alone or combined, are not protectable expression any more than language, genre, and typeface are protectable aspects of literary works.