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A 2014 Gwen Stefani song does not infringe on the copyright of the No Doubt singer’s one-time hairdresser, a California federal judge has ruled.
Richard Morrill in January 2017 sued Stefani, her company Harajuku Lovers, Pharrell Williams and Interscope Records, claiming the chorus of “Spark the Fire” infringes on his rights in a 1996 song called “Who’s Got My Lightah.”
Morrill is a former Huntington Beach hairstylist, and he claimed he played his song for Stefani while coloring her hair in the late 90s. Fast forward two decades, and he claims his ‘Who’s got my lightah? Who got the fire?” became their “Who got the lighter? Let’s spark the fire.” It’s important, he claimed, that both works pronounced fire as “fi-ya.” He also says they copied his rhythm.
The artists won a bid to have the case transferred from Colorado to California last fall, but couldn’t then convince the court to toss the case entirely. Later, though, several of Morrill’s claims were dismissed.
U.S. District Judge Dolly M. Gee on Tuesday granted summary judgment in favor of Stefani, Williams and the rest of the defendants. In short, she found the works aren’t substantially similar. (Read her full decision below.)
“First, the distinctive pronunciation of the words ‘light-ah’ and ‘fi-ah’ does not demonstrate similarity,” Gee writes. “[P]ronouncing words that end in an ‘er’ with an ‘ah’ sound is a common practice in African American Vernacular English. … Second, rhyming the words ‘light-ah’ and ‘fi-ah’ on beat four of both songs cannot be protected because the last word in the line of a song often rhymes.”
Gee found that based on the undisputed evidence, Morrill’s claim couldn’t show the required substantial similarity to keep his claim alive.
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