IP in the news- the Pop edition

Posted by Joanna Corbett-Simmons on

Taylor’s “sick beat” will “never go out of style”

Taylor Swift’s latest album ‘1989’ has gleaned more media coverage than usual and not because of its record sales (>$4 million in the US alone).  It seems Miss Swift has some savvy IP advisors resulting in her refusing to allow access to the album on Spotify or other music streaming sites (thereby forcing fans to purchase it) and also pre-emptive trademark applications for some key lyrics from its songs.  Applications have been made to register "this sick beat", "we never go out of style", "nice to meet you, where you been" and "party like it's 1989".  The categories which the applications relate to include items such as toys, beanbags, ornaments, Christmas stockings and Christmas tree decorations.  It seems printing lyrics on merchandise (whatever that may be) is big business and Miss Swift is planning on controlling the use of what she considers to be the most popular lyrics on the album.  Miss Swift’s name, signature and initials already have trademark protection so if you see any merchandise on the high street bearing those marks chances are they have a license to use them (or are risking be sued)! 

Stay With Me

Multi-award winning Sam Smith has reportedly agreed an out of court settlement with Tom Petty in relation to his most popular song to date, ‘Stay With Me’.  Despite Petty recently commenting that “the word lawsuit was never even said and was never my intention" he has been added to the songwriting credits for the song, joining Smith himself, James Napier and William Phillips.  Stay With Me’s apparently coincidental similarity to Petty’s 1989 hit ‘Won’t back down’ led to Petty’s people contacting Smith’s people which resulted in the credits being amended.  Smith’s spokesman commented:

Recently the publishers for the song I Won't Back Down, written by Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne, contacted the publishers for Stay With Me, written by Sam Smith, James Napier and William Phillips, about similarities heard in the melodies of the choruses of the two compositions.  Not previously familiar with the 1989 Petty/Lynne song, the writers of Stay With Me listened to I Won't Back Down and acknowledged the similarity.  Although the likeness was a complete coincidence, all involved came to an immediate and amicable agreement."   

It is not clear whether Petty will receive any royalties in relation to the song. 

Blurred Lines

One not so amicable songwriting dispute is that involving Marvin Gaye’s family and Robin Thicke.  Thicke made the error of gushing to GQ magazine about Gaye’s ‘Got to Give it Up’ citing it as one of his favourite songs and recalling his feeling that “we should make something like that, something with that groove.”  The similarity between the intro to Gaye’s song and the backing beat to the infamous Blurred Lines is undeniable and yet, that is just what Thicke did.  Gaye’s family issued a claim for plagiarism against Thicke and co-writer Pharrell Williams which was heard on 10 February 2015.  The jury in LA heard evidence from musicologists on both sides and was asked to compare the sheet music for the songs before reaching a verdict.   To rub salt into the wounds it was Thicke who issued proceedings first (in relation to the allegations of plagiarism) before Gaye’s family counterclaimed for copyright infringement.  Thicke denied that Gaye’s work was ever an influence (having presumably forgotten about the GQ interview) or that he actually contributed to the song.  The jury ultimately found in favour of Gaye’s family and Thicke and Williams were ordered to pay $7.4 million to Gaye’s family as a result.  An appeal is, naturally, expected

About the Author

Joanna is a Senior Associate in the Litigation & Dispute Resolution team in Cardiff specialising in corporate and shareholder disputes, professional negligence and contentious intellectual property matters.

Joanna Corbett-Simmons
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