Complaint for direct, vicarious, and contributory infringement seeks money damages, injunction, and attorneys’ fees.
Copyright infringement in music is the subject of a suit filed recently in the District Court for the Central District of California. Plaintiff musician Alexander John Greggs sued defendants Ariana Grande, Apple. Inc., and Universal Music Group, Inc., among others. Greggs, known professionally as “Alex Greggs” or “Alex G”, alleges that the song “One Last Time” recorded by Grande is substantially similar to his song “Takes All Night”, a Skye Stevens recording released in 2012. In releasing and performing “One Last Time” along with videos and international versions of that song, the Complaint claims, the defendants violated the exclusive rights of creation of derivative works, distribution, and public performance protected by the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 106.
In copyright cases involving music, a “plaintiff must prove (1) ownership of the copyright; and (2) infringement—that the defendant copied protected elements of the plaintiff’s work. Three Boys Music Corp. v. Bolton, 212 F. 3d 477, 481 (9th Cir. 2000). Unless the plaintiff has direct evidence of copying, proof of infringement is based on proof that the defendant had “‘access’ to the plaintiff’s work and that the two works are ‘substantially similar.'” Id.
Access means a reasonable opportunity to copy the plaintiff’s work, such as the opportunity provided by the defendant’s access to the work through his or her record company or by the broad distribution of the work. “[I]n music cases the ‘typically more successful route to proving access requires the plaintiff to show that its work was widely disseminated through sales of sheet music, records, and radio performances.'” Id. at 482 (quoting 2 Paul Goldstein, Copyright: Principles, Law, and Practice § 184.108.40.206., at 91 (1989)). The Complaint alleges that the Greggs song “was widely disseminated, receiving widespread radio and television airplay, internet distribution (including YouTube), club play, and high rankings on various Billboard and other charts.”
Proof of substantial similarity requires that the plaintiff first identify concrete elements based on objective criteria. The jury then asks “whether the ordinary reasonable person would find the total concept and feel of the works to be substantially similar.” Pasillas v. McDonald’s Corp., 927 F. 2d 440, 442 (9th Cir.1991) (internal quotations and citations omitted).
The Complaint alleges that the “choruses in the two songs use a similar melodic contour” and that among other similarities “there is substantial similarity on the most important rhythmic placement of the pitches on strong melodic and harmonic beats . . . , which are what the listener perceives as most definitive of melody and, to a lesser extent, the harmonic accompaniment to a given melody.”
Inspiration Spaceship is a Portland creative law firm monitoring copyright protection and infringement issues and representing creative clients in related matters. Please contact the firm with any questions about this post or copyright in music and other creative works.