Intellectual property (IP) proceedings come up often for our favourite stars in the entertainment industry. While you were singing along to James Arthur and Robin Thicke in the car, they were tied up in lengthy copyright infringement proceedings. In most cases, IP protection is on a first-come, first served basis. It is therefore essential that you seek protection for your IP as soon as possible. This article will break down five of the most famous recent IP cases and key lessons we can learn from them.

1. The Script Sue James Arthur for Copyright Infringement

James Arthur’s song ‘Say You Won’t Let Go’ was very popular and reportedly made $20M in revenue for the artist. In 2018, The Script sued Arthur for copyright infringement for the similarities between Arthur’s song and their single ‘The Man Who Can’t Be Moved’. 

The Script argued that both songs shared: 

  • the same 4/4 meter;
  • similar tempo;
  • a four-bar guitar introduction; and
  • employed similar vocal melodies and harmonic structures.

Arthur responded that “it’s 2017, there are only seven notes in music, and every blues song sounds the same”.

Although we are yet to hear a final decision from the US courts, copyright in music is tricky. Two songs sounding alike is not enough to prove copyright infringement. Instead, the other musician must have copied a substantial amount of the song and you must have proof that they had access to the original music. Even when the Court has proved that copying has taken place, this might not technically be an infringement because the songs lack originality or are too generic. 

Arguably, every artist is inspired by another and subconscious copying takes place. Therefore, it is crucial for every creator to be mindful of where their inspiration comes from. To avoid infringement, you should always assess whether your creation is too similar to other music.

2. Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams to Pay $5M for ‘Blurred Lines’

In 2018, a court handed down the final judgement for a plagiarism case against Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams’ song ‘Blurred Lines’. The two artists had to pay a total of nearly $5M because of the similarity between their song and Marvin Gaye’s ‘Got To Give It Up’. 

In his defence, Williams argued that even if he wanted to evoke the mood of Gaye’s song, it was not direct plagiarism. However, Thicke had also previously admitted that they were inspired to write the song after hearing Gaye’s song.

Again, it is difficult to draw the line at where one song might be so similar to another that it constitutes copyright infringement. It was noted in the case that these two songs might have carried the same feeling but differed in: 

  • melody;
  • harmony; and
  • rhythm. 

Therefore, it is essential for artists to be especially careful of creating art that has been inspired by another’s work. 

3. Dr Dre Loses Trademark Battle With Gynaecologist Dr Drai

Famous rapper Dr Dre lost his case in trying to prevent gynaecologist, Draion M Burch, from trade marking the name ‘Dr Drai’. Dr Dre argued that the public would be confused by the similarity of the names. Dr Drai, in his defence, argued that there would be no confusion because Dr Dre is not associated with anything within the medical industry.

The US trade mark office agreed with Dr Drai. They held that it is unlikely the public would get confused between Dr Dre’s music and Dr Drai’s medical services.

This case is a perfect example of how a trade mark is only protected in selected classes of goods and services. If another business in a completely unrelated industry uses your mark, this will not necessarily be IP infringement.

4. Crocs Lost EU Court Battle Over Patent Claim

Last year, judges in Luxembourg backed a decision of the European Union’s Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) from 2016 to cancel design protection over the Crocs shoe. The Crocs made its debut in 2002, however, they only sought for protection of their famous shoe design in 2004. In the EU, (and Australia) inventions that you have released to the public cannot receive design protection.

This case serves as a hard reminder for designers to seek protection for your product before you launch it.

However, it is unclear whether ‘soft-launching’ a product to a private group of customers is considered releasing the invention to the public and would, therefore, make design protection unachievable. In this case, you should seek professional legal advice before making your product available in any way.

5. Spotify to Pay Out $112m in Royalties to Songwriters

Following a class action by music publishers and artists against Spotify, Spotify was ordered to pay USD$112m in a settlement agreement. The publishers and artists claimed that Spotify did not pay enough in royalties to musicians.

Nowadays, people often access music through online streaming services like Spotify instead of traditional album records. In response to this shift, artists and music publishers now demand copyright royalties based on the number of online streams.

This case highlights the responsiveness of the legal system towards changes caused by technology. If you are copyright owner, it is crucial that you monitor your rights across online platforms.

Key Takeaways

Famous IP cases highlight the importance of protecting and enforcing your IP rights. In regards to music, you can claim copyright infringement if prove that the other artist has substantially reproduced your work. Furthermore, trade mark protection will not extend in situations where the other trade mark is in a different industry. You should also always seek IP protection over your invention before launching it. If you have any questions about protecting your IP rights or commencing IP cases, contact LegalVision’s IP lawyers on 1300 455 755 or fill out the form on this page.

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About LegalVision: LegalVision is a tech-driven, full-service commercial law firm that uses technology to deliver a faster, better quality and more cost-effective client experience.
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