​Complaining Work

​Defending Work

Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne

"I Won't Back Down"

Hear Recording​

Sam Smith

"Stay With Me"

Hear Recording

 

 

Comment by Charles Cronin

 

The aptly named Petty brings to mind Robert Pattison’s observations on superannuated rock stars: 

 

“He becomes the creature of his managers, who haul him about the countryside by plane, bus, and truck like so much cabbage, displaying him at $15 a ticket to coliseums packed with exploited adolescents… When the cash men have extracted the last drop of vitality from his fast-graying pulp, the sellout wakes from his stupor to discover he is a sodden has-been.  His fans have deserted him, his Porsche has been repossessed, and his new manager is named Ron Giboni, a character reeking of cologne and swathed in gold chains who has booked him on a farewell tour of the Middle East.” (Triumph of Vulgarity, p 149). 

 

Tom Petty’s website indicates the performer has had no public appearances since 2008.  Apparently, rather than working to shore up his finances he opted to extract money from a wealthier, younger performer through allegations of misappropriation.   

 

The similarities between the songs devolve to a single repeating 3-note descending motif that can be heard in innumerable pop songs.  Defendant Sam Smith declared he had never heard Petty’s song prior to creating his own, a statement Petty apparently endorsed when he issued a statement (after securing a portion of the profits of Sam Smith’s song) that “these things happen… nothing more than a musical accident.”  But this suggests that both parties believed that any musical similarities between the songs were independently generated, and independent creation is an absolute defense to a claim of copyright infringement.   

 

Perhaps 30 years hence Sam Smith will be reduced to performing petty shakedowns of those who have superseded him financially and otherwise.  But a most regrettable aspect of this dispute is that Sam Smith accommodated a baseless claim through financial appeasement thereby setting a precedent for similar future predations on other pop stars.    

 

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