Skrillex and Justin Bieber have fired back at an alleged copyright infringement lawsuit filed against them over their 2015 hit “Sorry” by indie artist White Hinterland, a.k.a. Casey Dienel.
“SORRY but we didn’t steal this,” the OWSLA head tweeted on Friday, May 27, with a video tagging Bieber and co-producer Blood Diamonds (formally known as Michael Tucker), in which he demonstrated how the “Sorry” vocal riff at the center of Dienel’s suit was created and not sampled. He also shared the post on his Facebook account.
Skrillex’s video shows him playing “Sorry” co-writer Julia Michaels’ original a capella of the writing sessions for the song. The EDM titan is seen retracing the process of how he made the vocal riff in Ableton by altering the pitch of Michaels’ vocals.
— SKRILLEX (@Skrillex) May 27, 2016
Your EDM notes a user on Reddit claimed the scale of the sample used is common in music, writing, “It is a simple fragment of an ascending pentatonic scale in E flat major. E flat is a normal key for vocal performances. Pentatonic scales are one the most natural things human beings tend to create, going back to simple beginnings.”
The music website goes on to speculate that the combination of Skrillex’s explanation of how the “Sorry” vocal riff was created and the commonality of the scale may have ended Dienel’s case. However, Billboard and other music outlets claim that even though Skrillex effectively proved he did not sample Hinterland’s track, it doesn’t invalidate the suit, “which also addresses the similarity of the vocals on both songs.”
Just over two hours after Skrillex shared his video, it was reposted on the Justin Bieber Twitter account, adding the hashtag “#wedontsteal.”
— Justin Bieber (@justinbieber) May 28, 2016
A little later, Michaels reposted Skrillex’s video with his caption and tagging the “Sorry” co-writers and producers. Co-writer Justin Tranter also “liked” it.
On Wednesday, May 25, Dienel filed her suit in Nashville against Bieber, his Bieber Time LLC company, Skrillex, Tranter, Michaels, Tucker, and every label and subsidiary that is part of the distribution and publishing of “Sorry,” including Warner-Tamerlane, Universal Music Group, and Def Jam. She alleges that “Sorry duplicates the specific and unique characteristics of the female vocal riff” from her 2014 hit ‘Ring the Bell.'” Her lawsuit also claims that the instruments used on her track, such as generic percussion and synth, are heard on “Sorry,” which is a weak point. Dienel is asking for unspecified damages and attorney’s fees.
Dancing Astronaut notes the lawsuit goes on to call Skrillex and Tucker the copyright “infringing producers” on the track, with the touchstone of the alleged infringement being the vocal riff on “Ring the Bell,” which is described as qualitatively and quantitatively distinct and integral element of the piece of work.
Dienel’s suit states that “Ring the Bell’s” opening vocal riff is the “primary musical motive for the structure of the song” and the song’s “unifying thread.”
In her suit, Hinterland also makes an accusation out of Diplo’s friendship with Bieber and Skrillex. According to Dienel, because Diplo shares a label with her, he had direct access and knowledge of the existence of her song. The point is designed to insinuate the idea that Bieber and Skrillex also knew of her track.
Dancing Astronaut states Dienel’s suit appears to “break down exactly where the incriminating sample appears, but also that the pitch and timing are identical.”
From the suit “In scientific pitch notation, the four notes of the sampled female vocal riff of both ‘Ring the Bell’ and the infringing ‘Sorry’ are the same and the four pitches are of equal duration and are sung in a rapid succession by Plaintiff’s voice. The temporal spacing of the notes of the female vocal riff in both ‘Ring the Bell’ and the infringing ‘Sorry’ are the same.”
It continues, “The duration of ‘Sorry’ is 3 minutes and 21 seconds. Defendants sample Plaintiff’s ‘Ring the Bell’ for the first eight seconds of ‘Sorry,’ and, then, Defendants repeat Plaintiff’s ‘Ring the Bell’ at approximate intervals of 1:05-1:20; 1:27-1:30; 2:28-2:42; and 2:49-3:01.”
It states, “The identical and/or striking similarity of ‘Sorry’ to Plaintiff’s song ‘Ring the Bell’ surpasses the realm of generic coincidence and independent creation.”
Dienel addressed her lawsuit on Facebook on Thursday (the day before Skrillex posted his video). She claims she “offered Bieber’s team an opportunity to have a private dialogue about the infringement, but they refused to even acknowledge my claim, despite the obviousness of the sample,” adding that she believes she has “an obligation to stand up for my music and art.”
The same day, Diplo, who collaborated with Skrillex and Bieber on the Jack Ü banger “Where Are Ü Now,” gave his impromptu opinion on the suit to TMZ at LAX. He said there were similarities between “Sorry” and “Ring the Bell” and that he thought Hinterland’s allegations were probably true and that “Sorry” did indeed sample Dienel’s “Ring The Bell.”
The Major Lazer producer expressed surprise that the “[alleged] sample wasn’t cleared'” and said the “oversight” was a result of “too many cooks” working on a song, which he said came to around 10 people. He also said he was almost mired in a similar situation with “All Night,” one of his tracks on Beyonce’s new “Lemonade” album.
Of the “Sorry” lawsuit, he claimed, “Somebody added it and then didn’t tell anybody, so it’s just they should have fact checked it.” Diplo also said as the song’s rights holders (if that’s the case), he thinks Bieber’s team will pay up.
“They don’t want to go to court with it, that’d be like even more money that everybody wastes,” Diplo opined. It is likely Skrillex, Bieber and other “Sorry” contributors may see as his comments as unhelpful and inexplicable.
Both Skrillex and Blood Diamonds have presented public rebuttals to Dienel’s claims, and it will be all eyes on the case when/if it goes to court. Some are already speculating that the “Blurred Lines” verdict may augur a big win for White Hinterland. However, Skrillex’s video, subsequent court testimony from the other co-writers and producers, and breakdowns from the “Sorry” sessions may seize the day.
[Images via Justin Bieber and Skrillex (Instagram)/White Hinterland (Facebook)]