The Music Copyright Infringement Resource provides documentation and commentary relating to music copyright infringement cases in the U.S. that were tried, and that resulted in written judicial opinions. Most music copyright infringement disputes, however, are settled before trial. InPlay will cover, therefore, ongoing and recent disputes in the U.S. and abroad, including those 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.

 
 
 
Recent and Ongoing Disputes (most recent listed first)
 

 

Barre v. Beyonce Knowles Carter, Sony Music, et al. (2017)

The estate of a young man murdered in New Orleans seeking a portion of the alleged $20 million generated by Beyonce's "Formation" that incorporates several generic verbal phrases earlier used by the murder victim in recordings of his rambling commentaries posted on YouTube.

Golden Crown Publishing v. Sony Music, Jonathan Smith [aka "Lil' Jon"] et al. (2017)

"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.

Joel Bosh v. Univision Communications (2017)

A claim based not on any musical similarities but simply the fact that defendant's work included the brief verbal phrase "I'm Puerto Rican" [or "I'm Puerto Rico"] that was the repetitive cornerstone of plaintiff's song.

Paul Rose v. Paul David Hewson, aka "Bono", et al. (2017)

"Nae slappin'" indeed. As in the defendants' likely response to the Complaint's allegations of the defendants' misappropriation of the plaintiff's copyrightable musical expression, and the factual quicksand offered in support of these allegations.

Abiodun Oyewole v. Rita Ora, et al. (2016)

Another infringement claim based not on any musical commonalities, but merely the defendant's similarly repetitive use of the indelicate expression "party and bullshit".

Alisa Apps v. Universal Music, et al. (2016)

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.

Arnett v. Alan Jackson & Sony Music (2016)

No doubt there are hundreds of songs with titles that incorporate the word "remember", but the feeble basis of this claim is that Alan Jackson's (well-known and financially successful country music singer)  use of it infringes the plaintiff's earlier song.

BMG v. Atlantic Recording Corporation, et al. (2016)

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.  

Erik Smith v. Jiroux (2016)

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.

Gabor Presser v. Kanye West (2016)

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. 

Mattie Music Group v. Kendrick Lamar, et al (2016)

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.

McElroy v. Eriksen (2016)

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.

 

Parker v. Winwood (2016)

A claim factually akin to the "Blurred Lines" dispute, in which the only musical commonality between the works in question is their sharing of a musical genre ("soul").

Songs Music Publishing v. Porsche, et al. (2016)

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.

Yours, Mine & Ours v. Bruno Mars, Sony, et al. (2016)

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.

Estate of Bo Chatmon v. Eric Clapton, et al. (2016)

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.

Miller, et al. dba "Sleigh Bells" v. Demi Lovato, et al. (2016)

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.

Griffin v. Ed Sheeran, et al. (2016)

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 (now under appeal) of Gaye's heirs in their dispute with Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams.

Greggs v. Ariana Grande, et al. (2016)

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 of, and zeal to identify, musical similarity. 

Harrington et al. v. Ed Sheeran, et al. (2016)

Perhaps emboldened by the jury verdict (now under appeal) he obtained in the claim he brought against Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke, Nashville’s Richard Busch has brought an equally flimsy infringement claim against another highly successful – and therefore much resented – new pop star, Ed Sheeran. 

Darlene Love v. Scripps Networks, Inc. (2016)

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.

Casey Dienel v. Justin Bieber, et al. (2016)

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.

Cirque du Soleil v. Justin Timberlake, et al. (2016)

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.

PK Music v. Justin Timberlake, et al. (2016)

This inane claim is likely a regrettable outcome of the recent infringement case against Robin Thicke (now under appeal) in which generic sonic commonalities between two songs were the basis for a musically know-nothing jury’s finding of liability for copyright infringement.

Williams Roberts et al. v. Stefan Gordy et al. (2015)

Feeble, but increasingly commonplace, infringement claim based on nothing more than use of a similar unprotectable catchphrase (and hopes for a swift financial settlement from the deep-pocketed KIA Motors Company). 

Miles Floyd v. Rod Stewart, et al. (2015)

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.

Daniel Marino v. Usher, et al. (2015)

Sanctions and disbarment procedings initiated by Judge Paul Diamond -- an admirable reaction to plaintiff's attorney's attempt to extort a financial settlement from deep-pocketed defendants. 

Tom Petty v. Sam Smith (2015)

Superannuated rocker's exaction of profits from an independently created song by Sam Smith.

Friedman v. Zimmer (2015)

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." 

Skidmore v. Led Zeppelin (2014)

A case attempting to capitalize upon Jimmy Page's mid-brow "anthem" "Stairway to Heaven."

Pharrell Williams v. Bridgeport Music, et al. (2013)

Offspring of Marvin Gaye attempting to capitalize on the financial success of current pop stars. 

 

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 groupd "Guns N' Roses" for unauthorized sampling of a recording Domino distributes, of electronically produced sounds put together by Ulrich Schnauss of Germany.​