On October 27, 2016, North Carolina songwriter Timothy Arnett sued the legendary country star Alan Jackson in the Eastern District of North Carolina for alleged copyright infringement. Arnett claimed that Jackson’s song “Remember When” infringed Arnett’s song “Remember Me.”
Yesterday, August 14, 2017, the Court dismissed Arnett’s lawsuit. A copy of the Court’s order is available here.
To prove copyright infringement, Arnett was required to show that Jackson copied protected elements of Arnett’s song. Since Arnett lacked direct evidence of copying, he was required to prove copying by establishing that Jackson had access to Arnett’s song. As noted by the Court:
“To prove access, the plaintiff must show that the defendant had an opportunity to view or copy the work,” and “A mere possibility that such an opportunity could have arisen will not suffice. Rather, it must be reasonably possible that the paths of the infringer and the infringed work crossed paths.”
The Court found that Arnett’s claims of access were inadequate. In particular, the Court noted that:
- The allegation that Arnett’s song was present on the internet was not sufficient to establish access;
- The allegation that copies of Arnett’s song were sold was not sufficient to establish access, particularly because Arnett didn’t allege that his song was a commercial success or even offer any estimate of the amount of copies sold; and
- The allegation that people who knew Jackson had access to the song was not sufficient to establish access because none of these people maintained a close relationship with Jackson-rather it is purely hypothetical that Jackson had contact with these individuals while creating “Remember When.”
In addition, the Court found that Arnett’s claim that he could overcome an inability to establish access due to his allegation that the songs were “strikingly similar” also failed. Under the “strikingly similar doctrine,” a court can infer access in cases “where the two works in question are so familiar as to create a high probability of copying and negate the reasonable possibility of independent creation.” Here, the Court found that the mere allegation of similarity in name between the two songs is not sufficient. The Court concluded that:
Arnett’s allegations of striking similarity are speculative and do not nudge his claims into the realm of plausibly.
A sample of Arnett’s “Remember Me” is available here.
Here’s Alan Jackson’s “Remember When“: