August 21, 2012

Kanye Didn't Infringe, 7th Circuit

Peters v. West, No. 11-1708 (7th Cir. decided Aug. 20, 2012).

Plaintiff sued Kanye West, alleging that West's song "Stronger" infringed Plaintiff's song, also entitled "Stronger".  The hook to both songs draws from the aphorism coined by Friedrich Nietzsche: "what does not kill me, makes me stronger."  The District Court granted West's motion to dismiss, and the 7th Circuit affirms, agreeing that the two songs are not similar enough to support a finding of copyright infringement.

The court structured its analysis as (1) whether West had an actual opportunity to copy the original work (independent creations is a defense); and (2) whether the two works share enough unique features to give rise to a breach of the duty not to copy another's work.  The Court found that West had an opportunity to copy the work based on plaintiff's relationship with West's manager and collaborator.

"Once a plaintiff establishes that a defendant could have copied her work, she must separately prove—regardless of how good or restricted the opportunity was—that the allegedly infringing work is indeed a copy of her original."  The Court was not not persuaded that the similarities alleged by Plaintiff rose to the level of copyright infringement.  The Nietzsche aphorism is commonly used (indeed, was the subject of another Top 100 song by Kelly Clarkson at the time of oral argument of the appeal).  Next, the Copyright Act does not protect rhyme pattern, a method of expression, but instead protects only the actual expression.  Lastly, references in both songs to the model Kate Moss were entirely different.

"Vince P’s theory is that the combination of the songs’ similar hooks, their shared title, and their references to Kate Moss would permit a finding of infringement. But, as we have discussed, in the end we see only two songs that rhyme similar words, draw from a commonplace maxim, and analogize feminine beauty to a specific successful model. These songs are separated by much more than “small cosmetic differences,” JCW, 482 F.3d at 916; rather, they share only small cosmetic similarities. This means that Vince P’s claim for copyright infringement fails as a matter of law. The judgment of the district court is AFFIRMED."