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Artist Copyright Infringement Cases

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Manish Jindal

January 11, 2024

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Artist Copyright Infringement Cases

Do you want to know the famous artist copyright infringement cases and how they handled them?

Art is an essential aspect of human expression and creativity. Artists pour their hearts and souls into their work, spending countless hours perfecting their craft.

However, when someone else takes credit for an artist’s work or uses it without permission, it can be devastating. This is where infringement comes in.

In this blog post, we will delve into some of the most significant artist infringement cases, exploring the facts of each case and their outcomes.

We will also discuss the importance of copyright law for artists and the steps they can take to protect their work.

What is Copyright Infringement Case?

An infringement case is a legal dispute that arises when one party violates the exclusive rights of a copyright holder.

Copyright is a form of intellectual property law that grants the creator of an original work exclusive rights to reproduce, distribute, perform, display, or license their creation for a specific period.

To establish a case of copyright infringement, the holder must generally prove the following:

  1. Ownership of a valid copyright: The plaintiff must establish that they have a valid copyright in the work in question.
  2. Unauthorised copying or use: The plaintiff must demonstrate that the alleged infringer copied or used the copyrighted work without authorisation.

What are the Copyright Infringement Cases in Music Industry?

Copyright infringement cases in music often involve disputes over unauthorised use, copying, or sampling of original musical compositions, lyrics, or sound recordings. Here are some notable examples of  infringement cases in music:

Marvin Gaye’s estate vs. Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams: In 2013, Marvin Gaye’s estate accused Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams of copying Gaye’s 1977 song “Got to Give It Up” in their hit single “Blurred Lines.” In 2015, a jury found Thicke and Williams guilty of copyright infringement and ordered them to pay over $7 million in damages, later reduced to approximately $5 million on appeal.

George Harrison vs. Bright Tunes Music: In 1976, a court ruled that George Harrison’s song “My Sweet Lord” infringed the copyright of the Chiffons’ 1963 song “He’s So Fine.” The court found that Harrison had subconsciously copied the melody, and he was ordered to pay damages.

The Verve vs. The Rolling Stones: The Verve’s 1997 song “Bitter Sweet Symphony” used a sample from an orchestral version of The Rolling Stones’ song “The Last Time.” Although The Verve had initially obtained a license for the sample, the court found that they had used more than the agreed-upon amount. As a result, The Verve had to relinquish all royalties and songwriting credits for “Bitter Sweet Symphony” to The Rolling Stones’ publisher.

Tom Petty vs. Sam Smith: In 2015, Tom Petty’s publisher claimed that Sam Smith’s song “Stay with Me” had a similar melody to Petty’s 1989 song “I Won’t Back Down.” The case was settled out of court, with Smith agreeing to share songwriting credits and royalties with Petty and co-writer Jeff Lynne.

Queen and David Bowie vs. Vanilla Ice: In 1990, Queen and David Bowie accused Vanilla Ice of sampling the bassline from their 1981 song “Under Pressure” without permission for his hit “Ice Ice Baby.” Vanilla Ice settled the case out of court, paying an undisclosed sum and granting Queen and Bowie songwriting credits for “Ice Ice Baby.”

Famous Artists Sued for Copyright Infringement

Numerous famous artists have faced lawsuits over infringement claims throughout the years. Here are some notable examples:

  1. Ed Sheeran: Ed Sheeran has faced multiple infringement lawsuits. In one case, he was accused of copying elements of Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” in his song “Thinking Out Loud.” In another case, songwriters Martin Harrington and Thomas Leonard claimed Sheeran’s “Photograph” had striking similarities to their song “Amazing.”
  2. Katy Perry: In 2019, Katy Perry was found guilty of copyright infringement in a lawsuit filed by Christian rapper Flame. The court ruled that Perry’s song “Dark Horse” had copied a musical segment from Flame’s song “Joyful Noise.”
  3. Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams: In a high-profile case, Marvin Gaye’s estate accused Thicke and Williams of copying Gaye’s song “Got to Give It Up” in their hit “Blurred Lines.” In 2015, a jury found the artists guilty of copyright infringement and ordered them to pay over $7 million in damages, later reduced to approximately $5 million on appeal.
  4. Led Zeppelin: The band faced a lawsuit claiming that their iconic song “Stairway to Heaven” had copied parts of the instrumental song “Taurus” by the band Spirit. In 2016, a jury ruled in favor of Led Zeppelin, finding no copyright infringement. The decision was upheld on appeal in 2020.
  5. Madonna: In 2012, Madonna was sued by VMG Salsoul, who claimed that her song “Vogue” sampled a horn segment from the 1976 song “Love Break” by the Salsoul Orchestra. In 2016, the court ruled in favour of Madonna, stating that the sampled segment was too minimal to be considered copyright infringement..

4 Artist Copyright Infringement Cases in India

1. The Napster Case

In 2000, Napster, an American music-sharing website, faced legal action from Indian music label T-Series for alleged copyright infringement.

T-Series accused Napster of enabling users to illegally download and share its copyrighted music, which violated its intellectual property rights.

Napster was a peer-to-peer file-sharing service that allowed users to share music files with each other, bypassing traditional music distribution channels.

2. The Barfi Case

In 2012, the makers of the Bollywood movie ‘Barfi!’ found themselves embroiled in a plagiarism lawsuit controversy when the grandson of renowned Indian filmmaker Bimal Roy sued them for allegedly copying elements of his grandfather’s 1955 film ‘Jalsaghar’. The plaintiff claimed that several scenes and characters from ‘Barfi!’ bore a striking resemblance to those in ‘Jalsaghar’.

3. Mohenjo Daro Case

In 2016, the makers of the Bollywood movie ‘Mohenjo Daro’ faced accusations of plagiarism when an American writer sued them for allegedly copying his unpublished novel. The writer claimed that the movie’s plot, characters, and even some dialogue had been lifted from his work without his permission or credit.

 4. The ‘Tattoo’ Case

In 2018, a tattoo artist based in Mumbai filed a lawsuit against Indian movie star Hrithik Roshan, alleging copyright infringement. The artist claimed that Roshan had used one of his tattoo designs without permission in the movie ‘Krrish 3’. The design in question was a tribal tattoo that appeared on Roshan’s character in the film.

Other Copyright Infringement Cases

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1. The Statute of Anne (1710)

The Statute of Anne, also known as the Copyright Act 1710, was an important milestone in the development of copyright law. It was enacted by the British Parliament to address the rampant piracy and unauthorised printing of books that was prevalent at the time.

The law granted authors and publishers a limited monopoly over their creative works, giving them the exclusive right to print and distribute their works for a period of 14 years. This marked a significant departure from previous laws that had granted monopolies to printers, rather than authors.

2. Baker v. Selden (1879)

Baker v. Selden was a landmark copyright case that helped to clarify the scope of copyright protection for ideas and systems.

The case involved a dispute between Charles Selden, the author of a book on accounting methods, and Frederick Baker, who had created a set of forms based on Selden’s methods.

Baker had produced a set of accounting forms that he claimed were based on the principles laid out in Selden’s book. However, Selden argued that Baker’s forms were a direct copy of his book, and therefore constituted copyright infringement.

3. F.W. Woolworth Co. v. Contemporary Arts, Inc. (1979)

F.W. Woolworth Co. v. Contemporary Arts, Inc. was a landmark case that helped to establish the concept of “fair use” in copyright lawsuit.

The case involved a dispute between the retailer F.W. Woolworth Co. and the artist Dan Flavin, who had created a series of light sculptures using coloured fluorescent tubes.

Woolworth had produced a series of Christmas decorations that were similar in design to Flavin’s light sculptures. Flavin sued Woolworth for copyright infringement, arguing that the decorations copied his original work.

4. Sony Corp. of America v. Universal City Studios, Inc. (1984)

Sony Corp. of America v. Universal City Studios, Inc. was a landmark copyright case that helped to clarify the legal status of devices that could be used to copy copyrighted material, such as video cassette recorders (VCRs).

The case involved a dispute between Sony, the manufacturer of VCRs, and Universal City Studios, which claimed that VCRs were illegal because they facilitated the unauthorised copying of copyrighted movies and TV shows.

5. Google LLC v. Oracle America, Inc. (2021)

Sony Corp. of America v. Universal City Studios, Inc. was a landmark copyright case that helped to clarify the legal status of devices that could be used to copy copyrighted material, such as video cassette recorders (VCRs).

6. Walt Disney Copyright Infringement Case

The Lion King (1994): In 2003, the family of South African writer and artist Solomon Linda filed a lawsuit against Disney, alleging that the song “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” used in the movie The Lion King was based on Linda’s song “Mbube”. The lawsuit was eventually settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.

Pirates of the Caribbean (2003): In 2005, screenwriters Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott sued Disney, alleging that they had been underpaid for their work on the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. The case was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.

Zootopia (2016): In 2017, artist Gary L. Goldman filed a lawsuit against Disney, alleging that the studio had stolen ideas and characters from his pitch for a movie called “Zootopia”. The case was dismissed by a judge in 2019.

Frozen (2013): In 2015, author Isabella Tanikumi filed a lawsuit against Disney, alleging that the movie Frozen was based on her autobiographical book “Living My Truth”. The case was dismissed by a judge in 2016.

7. Patrick Cariou Copyright Infringement Case

The Patrick Cariou copyright infringement case involved a dispute between photographer Patrick Cariou and artist Richard Prince.

Cariou had published a book of photographs titled “Yes, Rasta,” which featured images of Rastafarians and their culture in Jamaica.

Prince, an artist known for his appropriation of existing images, created a series of paintings based on Cariou’s photographs, which he titled “Canal Zone.”

How to Safeguard Your Work from Copyright Infringement?

If you want to safeguard your work from copyright infringement, there are several steps you can take:

  • Register your copyright: Registering your copyright with your country’s copyright office can provide you with legal protection and make it easier to enforce your rights if your work is ever infringed.
  • Use copyright notices: Include a copyright notice on all your original works, including the copyright symbol (©), your name, and the year of publication. This serves as a warning to potential infringers and makes it clear that you are the owner of the work.
  • Keep records: Keep detailed records of all your original works, including when they were created, when they were published, and any changes or revisions you have made. This can help you prove ownership in the event of a copyright dispute.
  • Limit access: Limit access to your original works by using password protection or other security measures. This can help prevent unauthorised copying and distribution.
  • Monitor your work: Regularly search the internet and other sources for instances of copyright infringement, and take action if you find any. Consider using online tools that can help you monitor your work, such as reverse image search engines.
  • License your work: Consider licensing your work through a Creative Commons license or other licensing agreement. This can allow others to use your work in specific ways while still protecting your rights.

Closing Thoughts

In conclusion, artist copyright infringement cases serve as a reminder of the importance of protecting intellectual property rights. These cases highlight the creative efforts of artists and the impact that copyright infringement can have on their livelihoods.

By understanding the legal landscape of copyright law and taking steps to safeguard their works, artists can ensure that their creative efforts are respected and valued.

At the same time, it is also important for businesses and individuals to respect the rights of artists and avoid using copyrighted material without permission.

Ultimately, by working together to uphold the principles of copyright law, we can foster a culture of creativity and innovation that benefits all members of society.

FAQs

What is artist copyright infringement?

Artist copyright infringement occurs when someone uses an artist’s work without permission or in a way that violates the artist’s rights.

Can an artist sue for copyright infringement? 

Yes, artists can sue for copyright infringement if their work has been used without permission or in a way that violates their rights.

What is fair use in copyright law?

Fair use is a legal doctrine that allows for limited use of copyrighted material without permission for purposes such as criticism, commentary, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research.

Can I use copyrighted material in my own artwork? 

It depends on the circumstances. In some cases, using copyrighted material in your own artwork may be considered fair use, but in other cases it may be considered infringement.

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