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The plaintiffs in the case were Devin “the Dude” Copeland and Mareio Overton, who alleged in a Virginia federal courtroom they had authored a similarly titled song in 2008 that shared some of the same essential elements including a hook (“I … need somebody to loooooove!’) that would be forever sung by those in cars and showers. For the alleged misappropriation, plaintiffs demanded $10 million in damages.
On Friday, U.S. district judge Arenda Allen dismissed the claims with prejudice.
Copeland said that he had met with individuals from a firm called Sangreel Media scouting for talent for music companies including Sony and Island. Sangreel is said to have expressed interest in promoting his songs, including “Somebody to Love.” Sangreel then allegedly passed along copies to other artists including Usher. There was later further discussions with Usher’s mother and manager, but by 2009, communications with Copeland ceased.
Usher then wrote the song at controversy and uploaded it to the Internet.
Bieber then recorded a version with Usher’s help and put it on the album, My World 2.0. Another remix later came.
Then, the lawsuit.
In the ruling, judge Allen goes through a two-part analysis in addressing the claims. One issue is whether the songs are extrinsically similar because they contain similar ideas. The next issue is whether the songs are intrinsically similar — a subjective test in how those ideas are expressed.
Here, the intrinsic issue presented a challenge for the judge in figuring out whose subjective opinions mattered most. According to Bieber’s side, it was the general public. According to the plaintiffs, it was song professionals. The judge sides with you-know-who, writing, “Although the immediate purchasers may be industry professionals, their purchasing decisions are based on the song’s expected appeal to consumers, and any harm caused to plaintiffs by the accuse songs would be caused by the public construing Plaintiffs’ song as similar to the accused songs.”
With that out of the way comes an analysis over the similarity.
“Having examined Plaintiffs’ song and the three accused songs, the Court finds that the songs cannot be reasonably construed as being substantially similar,” the judge writes. “Although the accused songs have some elements in common with Plaintiffs’ song, their mood, tone, and subject matter differ significantly.”
The judge adds, “This is not a case where a listener who had not ‘set out to detect the disparities would be disposed to overlook them, and regard [the songs’] aesthetic appeal as the same.’ Instead, any listener who had not set out to detect the songs’ similarities would be inclined to overlook them, and regard the songs* aesthetic appeal as different. Therefore, a reasonable juror could not conclude that a member of the public would construe the aesthetic appeal of the songs as being similar.”
Bieber and Usher won the case with the aid of representation from Howard Weitzman and Jeremiah Reynolds at Kinsella Weitzman.
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