Copyright law is a complicated mess at times, which allows for it to be abused and manipulated by big corporations. But anyone can file a claim, no matter who they are or how frivolous the claim may be. Here are nine strange copyright controversies.
9John Fogerty vs. John Fogerty (Sort of)
The CCR lead singer was sued in ’88 for allegedly ripping off his own music. The owner of CCR’s old label, Saul Zentz, felt that Fogerty’s solo single “The Old Man Down the Road” lifted its melody from the CCR song “Run Through the Jungle.
” Though Fogerty won, the case had its basis in Saul owning the copyright to the CCR track even though Fogerty was the one who wrote it.
8The Fine Brothers vs. YouTube
The Fine Brothers are a YouTube duo who popularized (some say invented) react videos. In January ’16 they went a step further and announced they would be trademarking and licensing the react video concept.
This went over very poorly, costing the channel thousands of subscribers. The brothers retracted all claims and apologized shortly after.
7Princess vs. Titanic
Princess Samantha Kennedy (she’s not royalty, that’s just her name) filed suit against Paramount Pictures because they allegedly lifted scenes from her unpublished novel for Titanic.
She wanted two-billion dollars and all copies of the film destroyed. Courts found no substantial similarities between the works and pointed out that Princess had tried a similar trick with Forest Gump in ’94.
6Universal Studios vs. Nintendo
When Nintendo began porting their arcade hit Donkey Kong to home consoles Universal Studios sued for royalties, claiming that Donkey Kong ripped-off their film King Kong. How Universal lost: the studio had successfully argued that King Kong was in the public domain years earlier.
5Hangover Part II
Tattoo artist S. Victor Whitmill sued Warner Bros. for using a tattoo he made (and had trademarked) for Mike Tyson. The studio originally offered to digitally alter the tattoo for home release but settled shortly before the film’s theatrical release. Many thought the case strange or baseless at the time but the point stood: Whitmill’s copyright was valid.
4PETA VS. Logic
In 2011 a British photographer had his camera stolen by a monkey. Said monkey took a few selfies, which the photographer would later sell.
PETA took him to court because they claimed the copyright should be held by the original monkey artist. Surely we don’t need to tell you how this one turned out.
3Logic VS. Warner/Chappel
Everyone knows that “Happy Birthday” is protected by copyright. Publisher Warner/Chappel made millions licensing the song for movies and television.
But in February ’16 it was ruled that they didn’t own the lyrics, just parts of the arrangement. The publisher will be paying back the money they made licensing the song in a fourteen-million dollar settlement.
2RIAA VS. a Corpse
Back in 2005, the Recording Industry Artists of America was caught in a lawsuit fury as they tried desperately to crackdown on file-sharing.
One of their targets was Gertrude Walton, an eighty-three-year-old woman who had been dead for about a year when the RIAA came a-knocking. They dropped the suit when it was revealed she hadn’t even owned a computer.
1John Cage VS. Mike Batt
In 2002 Mike Batt and The Planets released an album called Classical Graffiti, which contained a silent track called “One Minute Silence.” It was partially credited to John Cage, who wrote an entirely silent composition called 4’33”.
Batt was sued by the owner of Cage’s composition even though both songs were comprised of nothing but silence. Batt settled even though there didn’t appear to be much of a case.