Our third plagiarism update in music this month now. And there’s that old saying isn’t there – “where there’s a hit – there’s a writ” and whilst this blogger often spies claims of plagiarism, sampling and sometimes even downright copying which usually result in at least the threat of a lawsuit in the film, TV and music sectors, a claim in relation to the Oscar winning movie 12 Years a Slave has also thrown up claims violations of moral rights (under the copyright laws of Germany and France) – but in a US court..
The Hollywood Reporter lets us know that a U.S. civil lawsuit has been filed on behalf of composer Richard Friedman against composer Hans Zimmer, along with 20th Century Fox, Sony Music and various companies connected to the movie, for the alleged inclusion of a copyrighted music composition into the film’s main musical theme.
According to the complaint, filed in a Californian federal court, the “Solomon Northup” theme in the movie can be traced to a 2004 Friedman composition titled “To Our Fallen,” which allegedly was widely distributed as part of a music sample entitled “American Heart.” The plaintiff says that the sound recording was embodied in a 2008 episode of the ABC series Desperate Housewives and that the string overdub portions of the music were recorded at the same recording facility used by Zimmer to create most of the musical score for 12 Years a Slave. Friedman is demanding monetary damages and an injunction.
The lawsuit’s “quirkiest bit” is the assertion of the violation of Friedman’s moral rights in the fourth and fifth claims for relief. The film, of course, had international distribution. The claim under (VII) relates to German law (‘The German Copyright Statute of 1965’) and refers to (in a translated form) the “right of recognition of authorship” and the author’s right to prohibit “any distortion or mutilation of the work” before going on to apply the restricted acts in German law – here of reproduction, distribution and broadcast. The fifth claim under French law (VIII) is brought under ‘The Republic of France the Code of Intellectual Property 1992’ which seemingly provides that (in a translated form) L121.1 “an author shall enjoy the right to respect for his name, his authorship and his work” before going on the outline L121.2 (the author’s right to divulge his work) and L122.1 (the author’s right of exploitation … the right of performance and the right of reproduction) and the lawsuit asks for relief under the relevant French and German law. This makes for uncomfortable reading when compared with the claim’s choice of court for a jury trial in (II) Jurisdiction and Venue: the court selected is the District Court of the Central District of California Western Division and the claim is oddly silent on why French and German law claims are included, whilst also asserting that the District Court has “original and exclusive jurisdiction over the subject matter of this civil action under the Copyright Act 17 USC ss411 and 511”, that the court has supplemental jurisdiction over a claim of unfair competition and that venue is the proper location as the defendants transact business within the District and can be found there and that many of the infringing acts were performed and occurred within the District.
Rather handily TMZ has a comparison of the two works: One rather amusing comment goes “Oh puh-leeze! Mr. Zimmer also has two legs and is right-handed. Coincidence? At least in this excerpt, Mr. Friedman’s piece is a very generic idea. They probably both ripped off me! And Beethoven. And Mozart. And. And. And….”.