Beach Boys vs. “California Gurls”

Singer Katy Perry, of “I kissed a girl, and I liked it” fame, has been threatened with a lawsuit over her use of the Beach Boys’ timeless line, “I wish they all could be California Girls,” in her hit song “California Gurls.” Rapper Snoop Dogg recites the Beach Boys’ classic lyric at the end of Perry’s summer anthem, which has sold more than 3 million copies to date.

Rondor Music, who owns the rights to the Beach Boys’ “California Girls,” has sent a letter to Capitol Records, Perry’s record label, demanding that Mike Love and Brian Wilson – the two Beach Boys who actually scribed the 1965 Billboard hit – be given a writing credit and a portion of the royalties for Perry’s chart topper.

In a recent E! News interview, a spokesperson for Rondor Music chastised Katy Perry, as well as the writers and publishers of “California Gurls,” saying, “Using the words or melody in a new song taken from an original work is not appropriate under any circumstances, particularly one as well-known and iconic as ‘California Girls.’” The spokesperson elaborated, stating that “Rondor Music…is committed to protecting the rights of its artists and songwriters, and with the support of the writers, that is exactly what we are doing.”

The Beach Boys, however, are singing a decidedly different tune. When asked for his thoughts on “California Gurls,” Mike Love insisted that “[t]he Beach Boys are definitely not suing Katy Perry, in fact we are flattered that her fantastically successful song is bringing to mind to millions of people our 1965 recording of the Beach Boys’ ‘California Girls.’” In harmony with his co-writer and band mate, Brian Wilson similarly stated, “We think her song is great and wish her all the success in the world.”

As with any copyright infringement case, the legal issues that would need to be addressed if this case were to proceed include whether the lyrics “I wish they all could be California Girls” are sufficiently original to be entitled to copyright protection.

Jeopardy Facts about the Beach Boys’
“California Girls”

“California Girls” is part of the The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s list of the “500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.”

In 2004, “California Girls” was ranked #71 on Rolling Stone’s list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.”

* * * * *

Copyright 101: Summary of Common Music Licenses

Like any other property, music copyrights and the individual exclusive rights thereof, can be transferred, sold, licensed, and divided among several owners.  In general, to use recorded copyrighted music, you will need permission from both the musical work owner (typically a publisher) and the sound recording owner (typically a record company).  Note, however, if you re-record a song (instead of using a pre-recorded version), permission is only required from the musical work owner (since you are not using someone else’s sound recording). 

Following are descriptions of common music licensing agreements.  In a later post,  I will discuss some of the specific ways in which music is used on the Internet and the types of licenses required.  Continue reading “Copyright 101: Summary of Common Music Licenses”

Television Broadcasters File Class-Action Lawsuit Against SESAC

A group of television station owners has filed a class-action antitrust lawsuit against SESAC and its affiliated composers and music publishers.  SESAC is a for-profit company that licenses public performance rights to copyrighted music compositions.  The complaint (“Complaint”) filed in a United States District Court in New York alleges that SESAC has engaged in anti-competitive behavior in violation of federal antitrust laws.  Continue reading “Television Broadcasters File Class-Action Lawsuit Against SESAC”

Whoomp! (There It Is): The Importance of Contract Drafting

People often assume lawyers just use “form books” for contracts. I’m sometimes asked questions like: Don’t you just have a form for that? Can’t you just send me the standard form agreement? Can you quickly look over this agreement I did myself on the internet?

The fact is that virtually every contract involves unique circumstances. In the case of copyright transfers and licensing, contractual language can be critical. Under the Copyright Act, a written and signed document is required to transfer ownership of a copyright or to transfer exclusive rights to a copyright.

A recent case from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals demonstrates the pitfalls of an ambiguously drafted copyright transfer. Continue reading “Whoomp! (There It Is): The Importance of Contract Drafting”

Court Rules No Public Performance Fees for Ringtones

blackberry-storm-9530Recently, the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled that publishers are not entitled to public performance royalties for mobile phone ringtones.  See In re Cellco Partnership, 2009 WL 3294861 (2009).  For the past few years, publishers have argued that mobile phone carriers should pay copyright performance royalties when ringtones are downloaded and used by mobile phone customers.  Continue reading “Court Rules No Public Performance Fees for Ringtones”

Copyright 101: An “Old” Song Is Not Necessarily In The Public Domain

A common misconception is that all “old” songs are not protected by copyright law.  While this is certainly true in some cases, it’s important to understand that determining the length of copyright protection for any particular song is not that simple.  Copyright protection can last for a very long time.  Continue reading “Copyright 101: An “Old” Song Is Not Necessarily In The Public Domain”

Kanye’s Still Living The “Good Life”

kanye_westKanye West’s label, Universal, scored a legal victory last week in securing partial dismissal of a lawsuit concerning Kanye’s 2007 hit song “Good Life.”

Dayna Staggs, a singer and songwriter, filed a copyright infringement action in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland claiming that “Good Life” was identical in sound and melody to the chorus of Staggs’ song, “Volume of the Good Life.”  On August 14, the Court granted, in part, Universal’s request to dismiss the case.   Continue reading “Kanye’s Still Living The “Good Life””

International DJ Expo

I’ll be in Atlantic City for the International DJ Expo on Monday August 10 through Wednesday August 12. 

On Tuesday, I’ll be conducting a seminar on music copyright law:  The Top 10 Things DJs Should Know about Copyright Law.  The seminar will be at 2:30 in Diamond Room D at the Trump Taj Mahal.  I’ll also be conducting free 30 minute one-on-one legal consultations throughout the Expo. Continue reading “International DJ Expo”

Copyright 101: Creation Of A Copyright

Now that you’ve written and recorded a song, how do you protect it? How do you copyright it?

The good news is that as long as it is your original song and you’ve written it down or recorded it, the song is entitled to copyright protection. Under the Copyright Law, a song is immediately entitled to copyright protection upon the satisfaction of the following criteria:

  1. It must be an “original work[] of authorship”; and
  2. It must be fixed “in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed,” such as written sheet music or a CD, MP3, or other recording. Continue reading “Copyright 101: Creation Of A Copyright”