Pop stars Justin Bieber and Usher Raymond will be heading back to court after the Fourth Circuit for the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that a reasonable jury may find they infringed copyrights in their 2010 hit song, “Somebody to Love.” (Read the full opinion here)
The unanimous Court ruled the plaintiffs, R&B singer Devin Copeland A.K.A. De Rico, and his songwriting partner first brought the case in May 2013, alleging Bieber, Usher, or both recorded three versions of the song which had a similar beat pattern, time signature, and chords and lyrics with their own song under the very same name.
The case was dismissed in the federal District Court ruling that a reasonable jury would not find copyright infringement because the songs were not “substantially similar” under 17 U.S.C. § 101, et seq. The Fourth Circuit clearly disagreed, and found the infringement went beyond having similar lyrics such as “somebody to love,” but that same lyric was “delivered in…an almost identical rhythm and a strikingly similar melody.”
The plaintiffs claimed Usher first heard their song through music scouts in 2008, and that Usher, who evidently enjoyed the song, took it to Bieber.
“To us, it sounds as though there are a couple of points in the respective chorus melodies where the Bieber and Usher songs go up a note and the Copeland song goes down a note, or vice versa.”
The Court also found that it did not matter that the Bieber and Usher versions of the song could be classified as “dance pop,” while the Copeland version was R&B. The Court stated such a rule would essentially open the floodgates for artists to take songs and simply change them into different genres and claiming that they now had a different “’concept and feel’ than the original.”