For ‘substantial similarity’ a song has to have at least a spark of similarity

October 2018

COPYRIGHT

 

US District Judge Dolly M. Gee has thrown out a plagiarism lawsuit, giving summary judgement to Gwen Stefani and Pharrell Williams, who had been accused of infringing copyright in their song “Spark the Fire”.

 

Stefani and Williams were sued last year by Richard Morrill, a hairstylist, singer/songwriter and Korn member, over allegations of copyright infringement. Morrill contented that the Stefani and Williams’ song “Spark the Fire” was too similar to Morrill’s “Who’s Got My Lightah” brining claims for (1) direct copyright infringement and (2) contributory copyright infringement and (3) vicarious copyright infringement against Williams and Interscope Records only and (4) a conversion claim under California state law against Stefani only (Interscope Records is Stefani’s record label and perhaps Morrill thought she would hide behind it should the claim succeed) For those not familiar with the US concept of conversion, it can simply be described as theft. However, I will not consider it further as it was dismissed in November 2017.

 

Morrill claimed that Stefani came in to his salon where he played the star his song. As a result of this ‘preview’ Morrill claimed that Stefani took parts of Morrill’s original and created “Spark the Fire”.

 

In November 2017 Stefani and Williams moved to have the case dismissed, on the basis that the two tracks were not substantially similar and on summary judgement the claim should be dismissed. In her ruling dated 2nd October 2018 Judge Dolly M. Gee reviewed a number of features that Morrill claimed were substantial similarities between the two tracks and concluded that they were not substantially similar.

 

Judge Gee explained that the pronunciation of “light-ah” and “fire-ah” does not demonstrate similarity. The fact that “light-ah” and “fire-ah” rhyme on beat four of both songs was then said not to be protectable in the first instance as the last word in a line of a song often rhyme. Judge Dolly M. Gee found that both songs do not share the same rhythmic characteristics and therefore there can be no substantial similarities between the two tracks. Judge Dolly M. Gee then went on to explain that on the basis that Morrill cannot demonstrate any substantial similarities, he cannot show that his copyright was violated and he loses on summary judgement.

 

Accordingly, Judge Dolly M. Gee granted Stefani and Williams motion for summary judgment and the case was dismissed.

 

Samuel O’Toole (www.lawditmusic.co.uk)

 

http://www.completemusicupdate.com/article/court-throws-out-gwen-stefani-song-theft-case/

 

https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/thr-esq/gwen-stefani-pharrell-williams-extinguish-spark-fire-lawsuit-1149243

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