Early last year, a jury in Los Angeles made a landmark decision, ruling that Robin Thicke and Pharrell had unlawfully ripped off Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give it Up” in the composition of their own song, “Blurred Lines.” Gaye’s family was initially rewarded $7.4 million in the case—one of the largest music industry copyright verdicts in history. Gaye’s family had to legally prove that they own the composition of the music without playing the song in court.
The verdict stunned the music industry, creating fear among musicians that the decision would open up a flood of new copyright cases. “We’re now entering into a gray area, that’s very scary,” Eagles manager Irving Azoff told the Los Angeles Times after the decision.
More than a year after that decision, another case involving two of the industry’s biggest artists has appeared. Justin Bieber and Skrillex have been sued by singer-songwriter White Hinterland, who claims their No. 1 hit, “Sorry,” infringes the copyright of her 2014 song, “Ring the Bell,”according to Entertainment Weekly.
“The identical and/or striking similarity of ‘Sorry’ to Plaintiff’s song ‘Ring the Bell’ surpasses the realm of generic coincidence and independent creation,” the lawsuit reads.
Specifically, the complaint alleges that “Ring the Bell” begins with vocal sounds which are similar to those used throughout “Sorry.”
“To write, create, produce, and record the song ‘Sorry,’ the Defendants knowingly and unlawfully copied original, protectable elements of the musical composition of ‘Ring the Bell’ and unlawfully sampled Plaintiff’s protectable sound recording of ‘Ring the Bell,'” the suit reads.
White Hinterland, also known as Casey Dienel, seeks damages, a declaration of copyright infringement, and injunction to prevent further alleged infringement, according to EW.
Considering the “Blurred Lines” verdict, it’s hard to say how this suit could end. These things are very difficult to prove. Listening to “Sorry” and “Ring the Bell” back to back, there is some similarity in the vocal sounds opening each track, but beyond that, the songs are hardly comparable. One could make arguments either way, that decisions like these protect artistic property, or cut off “a vital wellspring of creativity in music.”
But should this lawsuit make it to a jury, it could have implications as serious as the “Blurred Lines” case. “Sorry” debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard chart and sold 277,000 downloads and 23.1 million streams in the U.S. in just its first week in 2015. As of February, the song has sold 2 million copies in the U.S. While “Sorry” wasn’t the massive worldwide success that “Blurred Lines” was, this means there’s both big money and legal precedent in play with this case.