Music publishing, sound recordings
When Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me” was released in April 2014, numerous commentators were quick to note the distinct resemblance to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ 1989 classic “I Won’t Back Down”. Others saw perhaps a passing resemblance in one chord sequence but felt that the songs and recordings were completely different. Now details have emerged of a settlement on the split of song writing credits and royalties. And remember it’s similarities in the song this matter is about – NOT the sound recordings themselves –which this blogger feels are quite different. However, there is certainly an arguable similarity in some of the chord sequences. The settlement reportedly included a 12.5% writing credit to both Petty and singer-composer Jeff Lynne (of ELO fame). The song’s credit on ASCAP (the collection society the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers) now lists Smith, Petty, Lynne, William Phillips and Jimmy Napes as the chief songwriters in what appears to be an amicable and sensible deal.
However one commentator adds “Tom Petty’s copyright settlement with Sam Smith …. marks at least the third time that Petty has heard similarities between his own songs and more recent hits by other artists. I think there’s a reason this keeps happening to Petty in particular: His music is so simple that a song can hardly play with the building blocks of rock ‘n’ roll without evoking a Petty hit.” More in ‘The Real Reason People keep Plagiarising Tom Petty’
http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/showbiz/bizonsunday/6294030/Sam-Smith-settles-up-royalty-dispute-with-Tom-Petty-and-Jeff-Lynne.html . You can compare the tracks here http://consequenceofsound.net/2015/01/tom-petty-awarded-songwriting-royalties-for-sam-smiths-stay-with-me/ and this one changes the pitch and speed for you …… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qkcZV97O3pw#t=105 but also prompted comments from both those who think the songs are extremely similar – “The words are different, the tempo is different, the key is different, but the melody is identical. I agree that it is somewhat of a rip off of Tom Petty’s song” and “First time I heard that song, I thought it was a cover of Petty’s song. And then I thought, “Damn, my brain is going. These lyrics are not what I remember” and those who think Petty’s claim is fanciful: “there are only so many combinations of notes that you can use to make a song. and considering how extensive music history is, there aren’t any original chord progressions left. Sam smith’s song sounds nothing like tom petty’s unless it is manipulated” and “ I get that the chorus matches when they say “Stay with Me” and “Wont Back Down” but the music had to be adjusted for even those parts to match. Everyone copies off each other all the time in music.
Petty issued a statement on his website http://www.tompetty.com/blog/statement-tom-petty-423041 saying
“About the Sam Smith thing. Let me say I have never had any hard feelings toward Sam. All my years of songwriting have shown me these things can happen. Most times you catch it before it gets out the studio door but in this case it got by. Sam’s people were very understanding of our predicament and we easily came to an agreement. The word lawsuit was never even said and was never my intention. And no more was to be said about it. How it got out to the press is beyond Sam or myself. Sam did the right thing and I have thought no more about this. A musical accident no more no less. In these times we live in this is hardly news. I wish Sam all the best for his ongoing career. Peace and love to all.”
– Tom Petty
More on the UK approach to the ‘casual connection’ between songs can be found in Francis Day & Hunter v. Bron,  Ch. 587 http://mcir.usc.edu/cases/1960-1969/Pages/francisdayhunter.html