The Overlawyered iMix

On August 25, a San Mateo County court will hold a fairness hearing over a nationwide class action settlement over iPod batteries that will provide $50 coupons for class members and $2,768,000 in fees for the attorneys. Because the lawsuit was filed before the Class Action Fairness Act took effect, the state court does not have to comply with the new federal requirement that attorneys’ fees reflect the actual redeemed value of the coupons, rather than the face value, one of many sensible provisions of the Act that trial lawyers, the New York Times, and dozens of prominent Democrats (including leading 2008 presidential contenders Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, and John Edwards) opposed. In honor of this fairness hearing (as well as in honor of a pending lawsuit alleging that Apple is monopolizing the music market by selling music in a proprietary format), Overlawyered presents the Overlawyered iMix:


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1. The Verve, “Bittersweet Symphony.” The Verve’s band name reflects a change incurred by a lawsuit over the original band-name, “Verve”; when they finally got a big hit in “Bittersweet Symphony,” they were sued by ABKCO for their use of four bars from the symphonic version of the Rolling Stones’ “The Last Time,” and turned over all the royalties in settlement, getting only a token for the forty-seven tracks they added to the composition.

2. The Tokens, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” In 1996, the Tokens belatedly sued over their 1961 contract, complaining they had been deprived of royalties. As we documented Jun. 14, 2000, their attorneys were sanctioned for trying to manufacture evidence to keep the suit within the statute of limitations.

3. Gilberto, “The Girl from Ipanema.” Heloise Pinheiro inspired this 1960s hit, and was sued by the songwriters when she opened a boutique with the same name. (Aug. 15, 2001)

4. Aqua, “Barbie Girl.” Mattel sued over the song and lost; MCA countersued for defamation, complaining about Mattel’s use of the term “theft,” and also lost. Judge Kozinski wrote an entertaining opinion.

5. JibJab, “This Land Is Your Land.” Woody Guthrie’s heirs threatened suit, and backed off under bad publicity. (Jul. 29, 2004)

6. John Fogerty, “Centerfield.” Play it loud, in honor of Fogerty’s victory in a lawsuit accusing him of injuring a concertgoer’s hearing. (Aug. 12, 2004)

7 & 8. Janet Jackson, “What’ll I Do”; George Michael, “Waiting For That Day.” Jackson sang “Hey hey hey, that’s what I say,” Michael sang “You can’t always get what you want,” and both had to pay the Rolling Stones part of the rights to their songs to settle a resulting lawsuit claiming rights to those respective seven-word combinations. (Allen Klein of ABKCO, was not only behind these lawsuits and the Verve lawsuit mentioned in #1, but was also involved in a 1970 lawsuit between Paul McCartney and the rest of the Beatles.) Jackson went on to be sued over her breast exposure at the Super Bowl. (Feb. 5, 2004 and links therein)

9. Snoop Dogg, “Pimp Slapp’d.” Another sampling lawsuit, this one based on an answering-machine message. (Feb. 5, 2004)

10. Trick Daddy, “I’m a Thug.” This album was the subject of class-action lawsuits alleging that the clean version wasn’t sufficiently clean. (Dec. 13)

11. Eminem, “Brain Damage.” DeAngelo Bailey only subjected himself to more bad publicity when he sued over his presence in a song about bullying. (Apr. 18)

12. Eminem, “Guilty Conscience.” A sample on this song resulted in a 2003 lawsuit. (Smoking Gun, Sep. 16, 2003).

13. Beastie Boys, “Pass the Mic.” The band won a lawsuit over their use of a four-note flute sample, which you can hear in the 30-second free clip. Newton v. Diamond (9th Cir. 2004).

14. OutKast from Aquemini. Rosa Parks, under the influence of publicity-seeking attorneys happy to squander her civil-rights legacy in ludicrous litigation, sued the band over the song “Rosa Parks,” got a sympathetic Sixth Circuit to rule in her favor in an appalling decision, and this might be why the popular song is not on iTunes. (Apr. 15)

What litigation-related songs should be on the next edition of the Overlawyered iMix?

11 Comments

  • Didn’t John Fogerty also get sued because his solo stuff sounded too much like the old Creedence stuff?

  • Great post, Ted. A band that should *not* make the mix is Milli Vanilli. According to Wikipedia, the duo composed of Fabrice Morvan and Rob Pilatus was the only musical group “to have their Grammy Award stripped from them after it was revealed that they had not been involved in the creation of their breakthrough album, Girl You Know It’s True and did not sing in concert.” That led to the inevitable class action, in which those who purchased the album received a refund.

    I’m happy to add that I was not among the class members.

  • As both a long time follower of Overlawyered.com, a Mac fanatic, and music critic without a portfolio, I’d say you’ve hit all my buttons.

    The most obvious song missed on your playlist is George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” who was sued for plagarizing the Chiffons’ “He’s So Fine” back in the 70’s. My understanding was that after a lengthy suit and trial, a jury found him guilty but fined him $1

  • And the best song, although it doesn’t have any litigation attached to it that I know of, is Warren Zevon’s “Lawyers Guns and Money”

    sample verses:

    I was gambling in Havana
    I took a little risk
    Send lawyers, guns and money
    Dad, get me out of this

    Now I’m hiding in Honduras
    I’m a desperate man
    Send lawyers, guns and money
    The s**t has hit the fan

  • And to compete at playlists, at a Cato conference a couple years ago I was asked by Radley Bilko for a list of songs relating to libertarian topics. This is the best I could come up with and it sort of relates to being overlawyered:

    FREE

    I’m Free-The Who
    Stone Free-Jimi Hendrix
    I Feel Free-Cream
    Freedom Rider-traffic
    I’m Free-Rolling Stones
    If You Love Somebody Set Them Free-Sting
    Free-Stevie Wonder
    Free Man In Paris-Joni Mitchell
    Free Fallin’-Tom Petty
    Love Is Expensive And Free-Fastball
    Philadelphia Freedom-Elton John
    Set Me Free (Rosa Lee)-Los Lobos
    I’m Free-Soup Dragons
    Freedom-Yothu Yindi
    Free-Phish
    Free Ride-Edgar Winters Group
    Free Bird-Lynyrd Skynyrd
    Keep Rockin’ In The Free World-Neil Young
    Freedom-Richie Havens
    Chimes of Freedom-Bruce Springsteen
    Find The Cost of Freedom-CSNY

  • Correction.
    It’s Radley Balko. My bad.

  • “My Sweet Lord” was found to have unintentionally plagiarized the musically almost identical “He’s So Fine,” and damages were in the millions, rather than $1. Perhaps worth including because the litigation took over two decades to resolve, and it easily could have settled sooner. Klein had a finger in this case as well after he purchased the rights to “He’s So Fine.” Bright Tunes Music Corp. v. Harrisongs Music, Ltd. et al, 420 F. Supp 177 (1976); ABKCO Music, Inc. v. Harrisongs Music, et al, 508 F. Supp. 798 (1981), 722 F.2d. 988 (1983), 841 F.2d. 494, 944 F.2d 971 (1991). Good discussion at http://abbeyrd.best.vwh.net/mysweet.htm and http://www.superseventies.com/sw_mysweetlord.html.

    As my brother reminds me, Harrison was extremely bitter about the suit, and wrote “This Song” in response (as well as The Rutles’ “The Pirate Song”). The Chiffons, with a sense of humor, went on to cover “My Sweet Lord.”

  • I should have researched the My Sweet Lord/He’s So Fine plagarism lawsuit. It doesn’t surprise me that the $1 judgment was apocryphal. I should also get the real story on John Fogarty’s “Centerfield” and his lawsuit with Saul Zaentz too.

    Meanwhile, here’s another of Dr. Reptile’s Greatest Hits Theme CD’s that is apropos of the subject at hand.

    MONEY FOR NOTHING

    Money-Pink Floyd
    Money For Nothing-Dire Straits
    Rich Man-Climax Blues Band
    First I Look At The Purse-J. Geils
    Money (That’s What I Want)-Barrett Strong
    Cold Hard Cash-Greg Kihn
    Lawyers, Guns And Money-Warren Zevon
    Money-The Rolling Stones
    It’s Money That I Love-Randy Newman
    Easy Money-Todd Snider
    Where’s The Money?-Dan Hicks
    The Moneygoround-The Kinks
    Take the Money and Run-The Steve Miller Band
    Money Talks-JJ Cale
    Baby You’re A Rich Man-The Beatles
    Blue Money-Van Morrison
    If I Had $1,000,000-Barenaked Ladies
    She Works Hard For Her Money-Donna Summer
    Money, Money, Money-ABBA
    Money Honey-Ry Cooder
    If You’ve Got The Money, I’ve Got The Time-Willie Nelson
    Greenback Dollar-Kingston Trio
    You Never Give Me Your Money-The Beatles
    We’re In The Money-Broadway cast

  • I’m shocked by the omission of 2 Live Crew from the list. They had an obscenity case, Luke Records v. Navarro, 960 F.2d 134 (11th Cir. 1992), and the more famous Supreme Court copyright case in 1994 (at http://straylight.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/92-1292.ZS.html).

    There’s also about NWA’s “100 Miles and Runnin”? In a slightly crazy 6th Circuit decision, use of a 3-note sample in NWA’s song, subsequently used in the soundtrack of a movie, was actionable copyright infringement (http://fsnews.findlaw.com/cases/6th/04a0297p.html).

  • In 1984, Ray Parker Jr. scored his first across-the-board #1 with the theme song from the movie ‘Ghostbusters.’ It topped the Pop and Soul charts for over a month and became one of that year’s biggest hits. Parker later settled a lawsuit with Huey Lewis because of Ghostbusters’ similarity to Lewis’s 1983 hit “I Want A New Drug.”

  • 1) New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, has been asked to resolve issues raised by a lawsuit between Lynyrd Skynyrd band member Edward King and his lawyer over allegedly unconscionable fees. See Point of Law, Aug. 10, http://www.pointoflaw.com/archives/001442.php .

    2) The Milli Vanilli lip-synching class actions are indeed worthy of derision, since they exemplify litigation manufactured by and for lawyers. As I describe the affair in The Rule of Lawyers: “When the cases eventually settled, the record company offered a $3 rebate to any customer who could offer proof of having bought one of the band’s albums, while the lawyers requested court-ordered fees approaching $2 million. How spontaneous were the litigants’ grievances? ‘Of the 49 plaintiffs in the Milli Vanilli cases, at least 41 appear to have had pre-existing relationships to lawyers, most of whom worked at firms specializing in class-action cases. And many of the plaintiffs say they agreed to file suit at the suggestion of a lawyer,’ reported the Wall Street Journal’s Amy Stevens. Attorneys ‘found clients in their own law offices and contacted their friends with teenage children’; one ‘didn’t know she was a plaintiff until she read it in the newspaper.’ As a matter of fact, the lawyers were doing very much the same thing that the record promoters had done: line up appealing if vacuous faces to lip-synch their own compositions.”