A famous blues song, “Corrine, Corrina,” is the subject of a new lawsuit filed in Georgia against Rod Stewart, Universal Music and Capitol Records.
The song was written by Armenter “Bo Carter” Chatmon about 1928 — long ago enough that it borders on being in the public domain. Since being recorded, the 12-bar song has become somewhat of a standard with covers by Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Willie Nelson and Conor Oberst, among others.
Now, the heirs of the Chatmon estate are coming forward with copyright claims against Stewart over his inclusion of the similarly titled “Corrina, Corrina” as a bonus track on the 2013 album Time. The complaint asserts that the two songs are “nearly identical” and “contain substantially similar defining compositional elements, including, but not limited to lyrics, melody, rhythm, tempo, meter, key, and title.”
The lawsuit injects a bit of a racial dimension to musical appropriation by noting Chatmon was the son of an ex-slave and says that the song is protected by copyright registrations in 1929 and 1932 on two different versions of “Corrine, Corrina.”
“Defendants had access to the Carter Songs at the time they recorded and produced the Infringing Song due to the Carter Songs’ popularity and fame as well as its prominent publication since at least 1929,” states the complaint demanding statutory damages, actual damages and an injunction.
Rod Stewart’s Time success is noted — the album reached seventh on the Billboard charts in the U.S. and the top spot in the UK — as well as his performances of the song in concert. (Here’s the Stewart song.)
Curiously, besides nodding to the longstanding fame of “Corrine, Corrina,” the lawsuit makes no mention of whether the many musicians who have covered the song over the years have made licensing payments. In fact, the lawsuit avoids the word “cover” altogether, maybe because the law provides a compulsory license for those making cover versions. (In other words, no permission required, just a set royalty.) Then again, it’s not clear whether Stewart considers this to be a cover song.
The history of the old country blues standard and Stewart’s new song will be detailed in greater length as the case proceeds.