Lavigne faces U.S. lawsuit
Canadian pop sensation Avril Lavigne is being sued by U.S. songwriters for an alleged copycat version of an original song.
The 1970s band, the Rubinoos, have claimed Avril Lavigne’s hit single "Girlfriend" is a ripoff of their 1979 song "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend."
I leave it to the powerpop connoisseur to decide the merits of the case.
Look, I don't know whether she copied it intentionally or not. Powerpop is a genre, pop in general is a genre, and so yes, there are similarities between songs, words, chord progressions, guitar lines, what have you. I'm not as interested in the merits of the case as I am in the Lavigne camp's response. The snottiness with which the claims have been met is pretty breathtaking, slamming the Rubinoos as obscure and money-grubbing.
Lavigne's manager Terry McBride denied any credibility to the Rubinoos claim: "This is a song she'd never heard of that was a minor hit before she was born," he said. "This is a stretch and there is no basis for it."
As soon as he received the allegations six weeks ago, McBride said he hired a musicologist to compare the two songs. The music expert reported the songs are completely different and not even in the same metre, McBride said, dismissing the allegations as a form of "legal blackmail."
Their defense continues:
Lavigne's manager, Terry McBride, CEO of the Nettwerk Music Group, tells Billboard that the suit has no basis. "There's nothing similar [between the two songs]," he says. "Our musicologist says there is no similarities of melody, choral progression or meter."
McBride added, however, that he would potentially settle the case out of court. "You are forced to consider doing this because American lawyers can do these cases on contingency. If I defend and win, it costs me $300,000 U.S. If I go to get my costs back, the other party declares bankruptcy. You end up footing the bill. Avril has insurance that covers off these sort of suits that are so prevalent in this business."
Two things: "our musicologist"? They have one on staff? I know a few musicologists, and this isn't what they do. Also, she has copyright infringement lawsuit insurance? That strikes me as.... odd.
Avril belongs to the YouTube/MySpace generation, so impassioned defenses of her are not hard to find on the web. Most accept uncritically her manager's assertions, which says something about how much our young people trust corporations and authority. As with Bill O'Reilly's defense of the Monkees, money is its own defense these days. Sad, really.
The case reminds me of two famous copyright infringement cases from the past involving artists I really respect.
The first, of course, is the George Harrison/Chiffons controversy over "My Sweet Lord." That case dragged on forever, eventually getting subsumed into the larger Allen Klein/Beatles legal issues which were so ugly. (Klein, after his break with The Beatles, actually purchased the publishing company which owned "He's So Fine" to continue the suit. "Dick move" doesn't even begin to describe it.)
The second is the freaky meta-case involving Saul Zaentz and John Fogerty, in which Fogerty was sued for writing songs which sounded like John Fogerty songs. Specifically, the issue concerned "The Old Man Down the Road" and its similarity to Creedence's "Run through the Jungle."
As Dave Marsh tells it:
Fogerty was still pissed when he finally made another record, Centerfield, in 1985. The final track on each side was an unmistakable slug at Fantasy owner Saul Zaentz: “Mr. Greed” and “Zanz Kant Danz.” Zaentz, apparently feeling as vindictive as Fogerty, sued for libel, asking $142 million damages, then charged Fogerty with infringing on a Fantasy copyright-”Run Through the Jungle.”
Centerfield’s first track, and its first single, was “The Old Man Down the Road.” Everybody who heard it remarked on its amazing similarity to “Run Through the Jungle.” And so Fantasy sued Fogerty for royalties plus damages for plagiarizing his own song!
Amazingly enough, the case actually went to trial and in the fall of 1988, John Fogerty spent two days on the witness stand with a guitar on his lap, explaining “swamp rock” and its limitations to a jury. Pressed about the similarity between the two songs, he finally snapped, “Yeah, I did use that half-step. What do you want me to do, get an inoculation?”
Even if Fantasy did, the jury didn’t. They acquitted him in early November 1988, and, having proven his skills in running through the modern jungle, John Fogerty went back to making his new record. Which he vowed would sound not approximately but exactly like Creedence.
Those who know me know I have a thing about people being snotty about those who preceded them. (I've been in several arguments about this re: Paul Weller.) On the whole, I think Lavigne's people would do well to deal with the Rubinoos and admit that pop has a history, that just because a song was written before you were born doesn't mean you never heard it, and that we all stand on the shoulders of our predecessors. In other words, they should throw some scratch to The Rubinoos and stop throwing out The Rolling Stones red herring ("they said 'Hey! You!' first!"). It's not like Avril's going to be living in a refrigerator box over 100 grand.
(h/t The Kenosha Kid)