As some of you may have heard, Justin Bieber and producer Skillrex were sued recently for copyright infringement by singer Casey Dienel. Dienel, better known by her stage name, Winter Hinterland, claims that Bieber and Skillrex stole vocal riff of hers and used it in Bieber’s mega-hit “Sorry.”
The copyright claim could cost the duo millions, as “Sorry” spent weeks on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, with several of those weeks in the top spot. Bieber and Skillrex adamantly deny wrongdoing, arguing the vocals used in their song were original and not sampled. Skillrex went so far as to post a video which showed the female vocal artist in studio, creating the vocals in question.
But does the video Skillrex posted on Instagram prove it isn’t copyright infringement? Do the indisputable similarities between the two mean it is? The answer to both: not necessarily.
Copyright infringement of the musical variety is notoriously hard to prove. When an original piece of music is written or recorded, copyright is automatically awarded (as long as it meets copyright requirements), according to Copyright Law of the United States. Copyrighted elements can range from melody to lyrics. The challenge is in proving that the defendants actually used the original work to create the alleged copied work.
Intellectual property and copyright laws are extremely complex, involving a great deal of analysis of both the original work and the work in question. The American Bar Association explains that an "audience test" has been established, which essentially asks if a lay person could detect similarities between the two without being prompted. If so, it can be reasonably assumed that copyright infringement has occurred and a case can move forward.
But the nature of the test itself is rather subjective, and with any art form, there’s a fine line between copying someone and being influenced by someone. It's a convoluted situation, and it’s best to let an experienced intellectual property and copyright litigation attorney comb through the details.
Will this lawsuit end in a massive financial award like the battle between Marvin Gaye’s children and “Blurred Lines” singers Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams? Or will it be settled out of court like most, including Tom Petty and Sam Smith’s recent suit? Stay tuned.