"To Our Fallen"
Music score for "12 Years a Slave"
Plaintiffs' Complaint: pdf copy
Comment by Charles Cronin
This claim must be one of the most speculative music copyright infringement allegations ever lodged. It appears from the complaint (above) that the plaintiff does not even own the copyright to the work in question; apparently he assigned it to a music publisher who subsequently sold it to Imagem, a large publisher in the Netherlands.
The claim radiates desperation: in an attempt to overcome the problem of standing the plaintiff refers to himself as the “beneficial owner” of the copyright; the legal owner of the copyright, Imagem, is identified as an “involuntary plaintiff” (suggesting that the plaintiff hopes to establish standing by attempting to ride the coattails of the publisher/owner that wants no part of the dispute). But most wondrous is the assertion that the defendant violated the plaintiff’s moral rights as recognized under French and German law! The plaintiff asks that the court impose “exemplary and punitive” damages based on these allegations, despite the fact that the U.S. copyright statute expressly limits its provision of delimited moral rights of attribution and integrity to visual artists.
The sound quality of the clips linked above is poor, but not so deficient that the absurdity of the infringement claim is not readily apparent. The only melodic commonality between the works is use of an initial interval of a rising minor third, followed by a rising major second, and then a falling back by a major second – the same commonplace sequence that opens, for instance, “Yo Ho, a Pirates Life for Me” that accompanies Disneyland’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” ride. Both works are essentially assemblages of hackneyed sounds used in motion pictures to invoke cheap feelings of solemnity, patriotism, etc. – trembling high strings, slow vacillations between major and minor harmonies -- typically accompanying images of a fluttering American flag, the Jefferson memorial... you get the picture.