No sooner did the ink dry on yesterday’s blog about Jay Z and Taylor Swift defeating claims of copyright infringement (read it here) does news come that a New York federal judge has found that pop superstar Beyonce did not infringe the copyright for a song in which a writer by the name of Ahmad Javon Lane claimed ownership to an introductory four-bar sequence. (The name of the case is Lane v. Knowles-Carter which was decided in New York Federal Court).
The judge dismissed Lane’s suit against Beyonce, ruling Lane’s song XOXO was not substantially similar to Beyonce’s recording of XO (XO appears on Beyonce’s self-titled album from 2013).
Lane had claimed that he sent a digital copy of his song to one of Beyonce’s background singers in June 2013 and Lane’s composition included a four-bar introduction, referred to as the “Beat.” Lane obtained the exclusive rights to the “Beat” from its owner, David Abisinito, in exchange for a payment of $150 and the promise of a writing credit to Abisinito.
In the end the judge found that Lane’s claim was substantially deficient because there was no substantial similarity between XOXO and XO. Lane also asserted that the substantial similarity was the use of the “Beat.” Some elements of an original musical work, including meter and tempo, a single note, words and short phrases, and common rhythms, song structures and harmonic progressions are not copyrightable however, and the judge said other courts have held that musical structures consisting of short phrases, such as the four-bar phrasing of the “Beat,” were so common that they are not protectable and would not establish substantial similarity.
These last slew of cases seem to suggest that artists who put out successfully selling material can almost expect to be challenged on the ownership of their composition in some form by someone. The rights of composers–well known and unknown–should be protected but, it also appears that it is inevitable that similarities will arise and all similarities may not equate to theft. Thus, we again ask the question; have we gone too far in that people with remotely similar works can try to lay claim to another’s popular work in the hopes of getting money? Tell us what you think.