“Girl on Fire” is the title track to an album of the same name released this year by Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Alicia Keys. While the song was widely acclaimed, a November 25, 2012, post to the entertainment industry news website Showbiz411.com by founder and editor Roger Friedman noted that “like a lot of Keys’s songs, it comes with ingredients from past hits.” Friedman wrote that the credits included a nod to “The Big Beat” by Billy Squier, “upon which the whole drumline is apparently based,” but he did not see any credit given to Eddie Holman’s “Hey There Lonely Girl.” According to Friedman, Keys “sings a couplet or so” from the 1970 classic in the middle of “Girl on Fire.”
While Friedman noted that “Hey There” was first recorded by Ruby and the Romantics in 1963 that became “a once in a lifetime hit”:
“Keys only uses two seconds of the original, but it helps make her record,” Friedman wrote. Earl Shuman, who co-wrote the song with Leon Carr, posted a comment to Friedman’s article thanking the author for his “expertise.” On December 10, 2012, Shuman filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Keys, seeking damages and profits for unauthorized use. However, the Hollywood Reporter noted that Shuman’s “lawsuit is rather bereft of important details, substituting an entertainment blogger’s ear in lieu of any demonstration of substantial similarity” between the two songs.
Indeed, a key reason that credit was likely given Squier is because an actual digital sample from “The Big Beat” was used in “Girl on Fire.” Jay-Z, Nine Inch Nails and Kanye West are among some of the more than 100 artists who have also sampled that same Squier track. However, Shuman’s complaint alleges that the way Keys sings three notes constitutes infringement without ever identifying any use of the actual Holman recording in “Girl on Fire.”
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