I GUESS PETTY DIDN’T BACK DOWN AFTER ALL: TOM PETTY/JEFF LYNNE SETTLE COPYRIGHT DISPUTE
Well, it’s official now; Sam Smith’s representatives have acknowledged the similarities between Smith’s “Stay With Me” and Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” (Full Moon Fever (1989)), which was co-written with Jeff Lynne. In fact, the acknowledged similarity is so much so that the tune is now co-credited to Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne along with Sam Smith, James Napier and William Phillips as writers. (Reports indicate that this settlement was reached months ago for a 12.5% writing credit each to Petty and Lynne for a total of 25%, although the terms of the settlement are just now becoming known). That means that Smith will now have to pay royalties for the song and whether one believes it or not the Smith camp clung to the position that the likeness was a “coincidence” although the writers of “Stay With Me” did acknowledge the similarities between the two songs. From all reports however, it appears that the settlement was reached amicably.
The resolution of this dispute might be more about who the parties were rather than the disparity of factual disagreement about the similarity of the two songs. For example, some commentators observed early on that the two songs had identical notes, chords, and pitches. Even to the untrained ear the similarities are apparent. Interestingly, Dr. E. Michael Harrington, a professional musicologist who specializes in federal copyright matters and who also has taught at Harvard Law School, Berklee College of Music and SAE Nashville, where he is a faculty chairman, noted the remarkable similarities between the tunes and he said that they simply went on “too long” in Smith’s composition.
The resolution may have also had something to do with the success of “Stay With Me”; it has sold almost four million copies worldwide and it was one of the biggest tracks of 2014. In fact, at the upcoming 57th Grammys (scheduled for February 8) the tune was nominated, amongst other things, for Best Pop Performance and Record of the Year. (As to the latter category Smith will be up against Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy,” Taylor Swift’s ”Shake It Off” and, Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass”).
Interestingly, although Petty and Lynne now get writing credits they will not be eligible for a Grammy should Smith win. Petty and Lynne are not considered nominees nor would they be recipients if a Grammy is won. (Instead, the duo would be given certificates to honor their participation in the work).
Ken “K Bo” Biedzynski