Elton John Convinces Judges About Uniqueness of His Love Song

A copyright infringement lawsuit against the singer and his writing partner fails.
Joseph Guay

How many ways is there to say, "I love you"?

Unfortunately for a man who composed a song entitled "Natasha" and sued Elton John and Bernie Taupin for ripping it off, there's more than one.

On Wednesday, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of a copyright lawsuit against the music legends after determining that substantial similarity couldn't be established in analyzing the work of plaintiff Guy Hobbs with Elton John's own "Nikita" song.

In the lawsuit, Hobbs asked a court to look at his song inspired by a brief love affair he had with a Russian waitress.

The plaintiff attempted to steer the judge to looking at the "unique combination" of elements allegedly similar in both songs. The list included things like a common theme of impossible love between a Western man and a Communist woman during the Cold War, descriptions of the beloved's light eyes, the phonetically-similar Russian female name in the title, and phrases such as "I need you" as well as versions of "you will never know."

But the argument fails because Seventh Circuit judge Daniel Manion reiterates the principle that copyright law does not protect general ideas, only the particular expression of an idea. The judge adds that copyright law doesn't protect "incidents, characters or settings which are as a practical matter indispensable, or at least standard, in the treatment of a given topic."

The appeals court decides it doesn't have to address Hobbs' "unique combination" theory because the plaintiff hasn't made the threshold showing of similarity in the particular elements.

Going into more detail, and showcasing not only why copyright lawsuits often fail but also the many trappings of love in a tough geo-political climate, Judge Manion says that the two songs:  

"tell different stories about impossible romances during the Cold War.... 'Natasha' tells the story of two people who briefly become intimate, but who are forced to part ways because one is not free (presumably because of the Iron Curtain) and must sail away... 'Nikita' tells the tale of a man who sees and desires a woman whom he can never meet because she is on the other side of a 'line' held in by 'guns and gates' (perhaps the Berlin Wall)." He could only imagine and wish for a chance to hold her, to tell her about his home, and if the border guards were to leave and set her free then to find and meet her, but he thinks that will never happen."  

Here's the rest of the judge's thoughts on copyright and love songs.

E-mail: Eriq.Gardner@THR.com
Twitter: @eriqgardner