Justin Bieber and Usher were ordered by a U.S. appeals court on Thursday (June 18) to revisit a $10 million lawsuit which alleges they illegally copied parts of a song composed by two Virginia songwriters.
The 3-0 judgment by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia reinstates a May 2013 lawsuit launched by Devin Copeland — an R&B singer also known as De Rico — and his songwriting partner Mareio Overton, on the basis that the lower court judge was wrong to dismiss it.
The two plaintiffs claimed that three versions of the song “Somebody to Love,” which were recorded by Bieber, Usher — then both, share the same beat pattern, time signature, and similar chords and lyrics with their 2008-penned song of the same name.
Reuters reports Circuit Judge Pamela Harris for the federal appeals court wrote Thursday.
“After listening to the Copeland song and the Bieber and Usher songs as wholes, we conclude that their choruses are similar enough and also… significant enough that a reasonable jury could find the songs intrinsically similar.”
In addition to Justin Bieber and Usher, other defendants named in the copyright suit are Vivendi SA’s Universal Music Publishing Group and also Sony Corp’s Sony/ATV Music Publishing.
In March 2014, U.S. federal district judge Arenda Allen dismissed Copeland and Overton’s claims with prejudice.
Judge Allen’s judgment centered on two criteria. Namely, whether or not the defendants’ three versions of “Somebody To Love” were extrinsically or intrinsically similar to the song written by the plaintiffs.
Allen concluded that the overriding factor in deciding whether the three accused versions were similar to the plaintiffs’ song, turned on whether the general public rather than song professionals would see the works as similar. Allen wrote the following.
“Having examined Plaintiffs’ song and the three accused songs, the Court finds that the songs cannot be reasonably construed as being substantially similar. Although the accused songs have some elements in common with Plaintiffs’ song, their mood, tone, and subject matter differ significantly.”
Allen continued, “any listener who had not set out to detect the songs’ similarities would be inclined to overlook them, and regard the songs’ aesthetic appeal as different.”
She added, “Therefore, a reasonable juror could not conclude that a member of the public would construe the aesthetic appeal of the songs as being similar.”
Fast forward to the Court of Appeals hearing, circuit judge Harris overturned Judge Allen’s conclusion and even said that the “Somebody To Love” hook was delivered in an “almost identical rhythm and a strikingly similar melody.”
According to Reuters, Harris also said it did not matter that the Bieber and Usher versions qualified as “dance pop, perhaps with hints of electronica” while the Copeland version was “squarely” R&B.
The judge said she could not rule otherwise as that would give artists too much leeway to profit from covering songs.
In Copeland and Overton’s original lawsuit, Devin claimed he met up with individuals from Sangreel Media, a company which was allegedly scouting for songs for music companies including Sony and Island. Devin claims Sangreel told him that they wanted to promote his songs, including “Somebody to Love.”
The plaintiffs allege Sangreel forwarded on copies of Devin’s showreel to artists, including Usher’s representatives, who allegedly passed it on to Usher’s mother who was managing her son at the time. It is claimed Usher liked the plaintiff’s version of “Somebody To Love” and played it to Bieber.
Discussions allegedly took place between the parties. Devin alleges he had a telephone conversation with Usher’s mother but contact ceased by 2009.
Usher wrote his song “Somebody To Love” and uploaded a version to YouTube in 2010.
Bieber was subsequently given the song to record, which Usher provided backing vocals on. That version went on Justin’s 2010 My World 2.0 album, and credited Bieber as a co-writer. A remix of the song, featuring Usher, reached No. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart later that year.
Of Thursday’s ruling, Duncan Byers, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said the panel “recognised what my clients have said all along: it’s the same melody and the same chorus,” Reuters reports.
The copyright lawsuit [Copeland et al v Bieber et al, 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 14-1427] now heads back ot a lower court for a jury trial.
Take a listen to the opposing versions of “Somebody To Love” below. If you were on the jury in this case, which way would you swing?
[Images via Getty Images]