Twenty-two-year-old English musician Sam Smith accidentally infringed on the intellectual property (IP) of the legendary American musician Tom Petty. Smith alleged that he had never heard of Petty’s 1989 song I Won’t Back Down when he wrote the melodically similar song Stay With Me, which was recently Grammy-nominated.
The music industry is prone to all kinds of business litigation, because of the number of songs and albums that are created each year, along with the tough competition, which can increase the risk of either accidental or purposeful infringement on another musician’s IP. Lawsuits have been filed or threatened for similar track titles, melodies, choruses and other forms of musical plagiarism.
The creation of a song or an album is deeply personal, which may lead to heated disputes if one musician accuses the other of IP infringement. However, not all disputes result in ruined relationships or raised voices.
How Did Sam Smith and Tom Petty Settle Their Dispute?
Petty and Jeff Lynne, the writers of I Won’t Back Down, launched the dispute. Ultimately, Sam Smith, James Napier and William Phillips, the three writers of Stay With Me, settled the IP dispute with Petty and Lynne by accepting that the song had similarities. Additionally, Smith and company have agreed to pay 12.5 percent of their royalties from their song to the plaintiffs.
The musicians were able to resolve their dispute without escalating tempers, because they came to an understanding of why the issue happened in the first place. Smith was able to admit fault, while Petty was not offended by the IP infringement, because he knew enough about the music industry to know that these encroachments happen. The fact that neither side was malicious towards the other was key in achieving a resolution that was agreeable to both sides.
Unfortunately, not everyone is as diplomatic in a dispute as these musicians were. This is why an experienced business litigation attorney can help in reaching an understanding before more damage is done and increase your chance of settling your dispute favorably in clearly written terms of agreement.
[Did You Know? Sam Smith settled a legal dispute for similarities between Stay With Me and I Won’t Back Down, a song that was three years old when he was born.]
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