Country Stars Beat Copyright Infringement Case Over "Remind Me" Hook

Bowen v. Paisley, No, 13-414 (M.D. Tenn. Aug. 25 2016).

Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood did not infringe plaintiff's song, holds the Court in granting Defendants summary judgment in a case brought by a country music songwriter.  The two songs at issue were called "Remind Me," and specifically their allegedly similar "hooks."  The Court held that the plaintiff had sufficiently established originality and access, but that she has not presented sufficient evidence of substantial similarity between the two works to survive summary judgment.  As to substantial similarity, in sum, plaintiff's expert identified the use of some similar techniques and musical devices, but she did not show that the two Works employ these techniques and devices in the same manner.  Further, these technical similarities were overwhelmed by the broader dissimilarities in context, structure, mood, melody, and harmony—the very features a lay listener would be likely to identify. 

In this case, however, the plaintiff does not allege literal copying of anything except the lyric phrases “remind me” and “baby, remind me,” and she has not shown that the defendants’ use of some of the same musical techniques and melodic features was similar enough to her use of the same techniques and features to render the expressions of the hook phrases in the two Works substantially similar. In short, the court finds that no reasonable juror could conclude, based on the undisputed evidence, that the songs overall, or the “hook” phrases specifically, are substantially similar. 

Chorus In Bieber & Usher Song Similar Enough To Chorus In Plaintiff's Song To State Copyright Claim

Copeland v. Bieber, No. 14-1427 (4th Cir. June 18, 2015)

The Fourt Circuit vacated the trial Court's dimissal of Plaintiff's claim against Justin Bieber and other defendants alleging that three recorded songs infringe upon plaintiff's copyright in an earlier song of the same name.  Applying the "intrinsic similarity" test -- whether the songs at issue, assessed from the perspective of the intended audience (the general public), and taking into account their "total concept and feel" -- the appellate court found on de novo review, after listening to both songs start to finish, that plaintiff stated a claim.  First, the court found that the three songs (a demo, album version, and remix) were "the same" (not just substantially similar) under the unscientific intrisic standard.  Second, the court compared the three songs to plaintiff's song.  The appellate court disagreed with the lower court's finding that there was a different overall "aesthetic appeal," finding too much of a focus on the mood and tone of the song rather than the similarities between the most imporant "element" of the songs, their choruses.  The songs are different genres, but that is not enough (the Court gave the example of the Beatles' songbook being turned into an unlicensed reggae or heavy metal version).  Further, the songs were in may respects dissimilar; numerically, the points of dissimilarity may have exceeded the points of similarity.  "But what that analysis fails to account for...is the relative importances of these differences as compared to what the songs reasonably could be heard to have in common: their choruses....courts routinely permit a finding of substantial similarity where the works share some espeically significant sequence of notes or lyrics."  Continguing, "we think it is clear that when it comes to popular music, a song's chorus may be the kind of key sequence that can give rise to intrinsic similarity, even when works differ in other respects."  In other words, "the hook" is key.  And whether a member of the general public could experience these songs primarily through their choruses and thus find them substantially similar is a close enough question that it cannot be disposed of as a matter of law and should instead by decided by a jury.

[Author's note: missed this case earlier in the year].

Country Music Infringement Claim Survives Dismissal

Bowen v. Paisley et al., No. 3:13-cv-0414 (M.D. Tenn. filed Dec. 3, 2013) [Doc. 58]

Plaintiff alleged that the defendants, including popular country music singers Brad Paisley and Carrie
Underwood, violated her copyright interests in the song “Remind Me,” a song that plaintiff
copyrighted and recorded.  Defendants moved to dismiss.  The Court denied defendant's motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, finding that under the Iqbal standard, plaintiff had plausibly shown that, taken in combination, her lyrics and associated melodies, intonations, and usage could be sufficiently original to constitute protectable material, and that based on the Court's own comparison of the two works that defendants' hooks which incorporate that potentially distinctive combination of elements, are “substantially similar”.

Kanye Didn't Infringe, 7th Circuit

Peters v. West, No. 11-1708 (7th Cir. decided Aug. 20, 2012).

Plaintiff sued Kanye West, alleging that West's song "Stronger" infringed Plaintiff's song, also entitled "Stronger".  The hook to both songs draws from the aphorism coined by Friedrich Nietzsche: "what does not kill me, makes me stronger."  The District Court granted West's motion to dismiss, and the 7th Circuit affirms, agreeing that the two songs are not similar enough to support a finding of copyright infringement.

The court structured its analysis as (1) whether West had an actual opportunity to copy the original work (independent creations is a defense); and (2) whether the two works share enough unique features to give rise to a breach of the duty not to copy another's work.  The Court found that West had an opportunity to copy the work based on plaintiff's relationship with West's manager and collaborator.


"Once a plaintiff establishes that a defendant could have copied her work, she must separately prove—regardless of how good or restricted the opportunity was—that the allegedly infringing work is indeed a copy of her original."  The Court was not not persuaded that the similarities alleged by Plaintiff rose to the level of copyright infringement.  The Nietzsche aphorism is commonly used (indeed, was the subject of another Top 100 song by Kelly Clarkson at the time of oral argument of the appeal).  Next, the Copyright Act does not protect rhyme pattern, a method of expression, but instead protects only the actual expression.  Lastly, references in both songs to the model Kate Moss were entirely different.

"Vince P’s theory is that the combination of the songs’ similar hooks, their shared title, and their references to Kate Moss would permit a finding of infringement. But, as we have discussed, in the end we see only two songs that rhyme similar words, draw from a commonplace maxim, and analogize feminine beauty to a specific successful model. These songs are separated by much more than “small cosmetic differences,” JCW, 482 F.3d at 916; rather, they share only small cosmetic similarities. This means that Vince P’s claim for copyright infringement fails as a matter of law. The judgment of the district court is AFFIRMED."