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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Author's Choice - Case Dismissed Against Elton John

Full disclosure - today's case has absolutely nothing to do with municipal law, social media, or land use.  Instead, I offer today's case under the long-standing blogger rule of "author's choice."  Yep, I just made that up.
Yesterday, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion in the case Hobbs v. Elton John, involving a copyright infringement lawsuit filed by a Russian cruise ship photographer against the famous singer.  Guy Hobbs claims that he composed a song called "Natasha," after he met a Russian waitress while working on a cruise ship in 1982.  He registered his copyright in the UK in 1983, and sent the song to a number of music publishers, including Big Pig Music, Ltd., a company that published a number of songs composed by Elton John.  He was unsuccessful in finding a publisher for his song.
In 1985, Elton John released a song called "Nikita" and copyrighted the song with his publisher, Big Pig. Nearly two decades later, Hobbs contacted Elton John claiming that "Nikita" infringed his copyright of "Natasha," and seeking compensation.  He followed up with a copyright lawsuit in 2012.  Elton John and the other named defendants filed a motion to dismiss the complaint for failing to state a valid cause of action.  The district court ruled in favor of the defendants and dismissed the case. 
On appeal, the court compared the lyrics of the two songs and considered Hobbs' argument that although the lyrics of the two songs were not similar, there was a "unique combination" of elements in the copyrighted song that were protected. The court did not address Hobbs' theory, however, instead applying a standard that looked at whether the two songs were "substantially similar, thereby supporting an inference that the defendants did copy his song."  In applying the standard, the court determined that the two songs were not substantially similar because they "tell different stories," and do not share enough unique features to rise to the level of copyright infringement. 

You can read the entire lyrics to both songs in the Seventh Circuit decision.  I wonder if the court had as much fun deciding this case as I did reading it? 


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