Copyright Infringement

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If Sleigh Bells ring, you’d better listen. That’s the case if your name’s Demi Lovato anyway. The former diminutive dinosaur wrangler from Barney & Friends and sometime Disney diva is being sued for copyright infringement by American popsters Sleigh Bells, over similarities between two of their tracks.

Arif Khalfe, Partner and Team Leader of Commercial Disputes at Simpson Millar, examines the case in question.

Stars and strife

She’s come a fair way since her days co-starring with an undersized purple dinosaur, but that doesn’t mean it remains all plain sailing for the good ship Lovato, something she discovered when her 2015 track, ‘Stars’, received an icy response from indie duo, Sleigh Bells.

The initial frosty reception – a deliberately tart tweet aimed at Lovato – has since snowballed, with Sleigh Bells filing a suit against her, the record label and the song’s two producers, contending that the track copies a 2010 Sleigh Bells song, ‘Infinity Guitars’.

This is under the assertion that the 2 songs have “virtually identical content, transcending the realm of coincidence.”

The lawsuit further explains:

“… a comparison of the 2 songs reveals that, at the very least, the combination of the hand claps and bass drum, structured as 3 quarter beats and a rest, with the bass drum providing counter-rhythm to the hand claps, is at least substantially similar in both works. This infringing material repeats throughout the defendants’ song.”

Unauthorised sampling

Naming Demi Lovato, UMG Recordings, Carl Falk and Rami Yacoub in the legal action, Sleigh Bells are said to be seeking substantial damages, although none of the parties concerned have made comment since the claim was filed. Last year, however, when an accusation of unauthorised sampling was issued by the Sleigh Bells camp, the producers (Falk and Yacoub) responded with a statement saying:

“We did not use any samples in […] ‘Stars’. Demi was also not involved with the production. She only wrote topline*.”

*the melody and lyrics

Arif Khalfe comments:

“Although US and UK copyright law differ in certain aspects – this particular case is taking place in the US – both are based on similar objectives, which is to ensure the creators of artistic works such as music, design, film and literary pieces, retain the right to control how their product is distributed and used.”

“Here in the UK, it is an automatic right, meaning that as soon as an individual, a group or an organisation creates an original work, the copyright belongs to them. This only applies to the work itself and not the idea behind it.”

“So if a corporation creates a new logo, it will become the ‘first owner of copyright’ under the ‘Copyright, Designs and Patent Act’ of 1988. This gives the corporation complete control over the logo’s design and anybody using it without permission, copying it or misusing it could find themselves facing legal action.”

“Additionally, copyright is regarded as an asset and, as such, can be transferred or sold on like any other.”

“In the case discussed here, if Demi’s song is found to have copied the Sleigh Bells’ work – even if it is just a small snippet that goes to make up a new piece – and consent wasn’t sought beforehand, then they are in breach of copyright and will find themselves having to pay whatever damages the court awards. If we’ve learned anything from a long line of previous music copyright cases, that financial redress could prove to be quite substantial.

Written by Arif Khalfe

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