Independent Musician Sues Justin Bieber & Skrillex For Copyright Infringement… Over A Sample They Didn't Use
from the well-that's-an-issue dept
Late last week, the press had a bit of a frenzy with the news that indie musician Casey Dienel, who releases music as White Hinterland, had sued Justin Bieber and Skrillex (along with some others) for copyright infringement, claiming that the pair used a sample from her song “Ring the Bell” that was released in 2014. The accusation is that Bieber’s 2015 hit “Sorry” uses the same sample of a female musical riff. You can read the lawsuit here, which might be useful since most of the rest of the media didn’t link to it.
Here’s White Hinterland’s “Ring the Bell”:
And here’s the Bieber/Skrillex song “Sorry”:
The two songs are basically nothing alike except that both start with a similar female vocal riff. It’s right at the beginning of both songs, and, indeed, it does sound kinda similar, but it’s clearly not the same. If you want to hear both in a single video, well, someone’s created that too:
But if you listen, you’ll see that they’re not the same. And, indeed, Skrillex posted a short clip to Twitter showing how the sample was made, suggesting this lawsuit is completely and totally bogus, as it was taken directly from a longer recording from the actual Sorry recording session and then tweaked.
— SKRILLEX (@Skrillex) May 27, 2016
Dienel’s Facebook post about the lawsuit claims that the sample is “obvious” and makes some odd claims about how she felt she needed to do this “to preserve my independence.”
Creating original and unique music is my life?s passion, but it is challenging and time consuming. I poured my blood, sweat, and tears into writing and producing ?Ring the Bell,? and I am proud of the finished product, which Rolling Stone listed as one of its ?favorite songs, albums, and videos.? Throughout my career, I have worked very hard to preserve my independence and creative control, thus it came as a shock to hear my work used and exploited without permission.
Like most artists that sample music, Bieber could have licensed my song for use in ?Sorry.? But he chose not to contact me. After the release of ?Sorry,? my lawyers sent Bieber a letter regarding the infringement, but Bieber?s team again chose to ignore me. I offered Bieber?s team an opportunity to have a private dialogue about the infringement, but they refused to even acknowledge my claim, despite the obviousness of the sample. Justin Bieber is the world?s biggest artist, and I?m sure that he and his team will launch a full attack against me. But, in the end, I was left with no other option. I believe I have an obligation to stand up for my music and art.
To be fair, the vocal riffs are pretty similar, but they’re also pretty short and pretty basic. Just a short upward progression.
As for the lawsuit itself… it bends over backwards to present circumstantial evidence of why Skrillex may have heard Dienel’s song, noting things like the fact that her album was reviewed in Rolling Stone in an issue that also reviewed a Skrillex album. And also, a previous producer for a different Bieber album was also in another musical group that was signed to a sister label with the label that put out the White Hinterlands album. And even though the rest of both of the songs are really different, Dienel’s lawsuit still tries to insist that there are more similarities than there really are:
Both ?Ring the Bell? and the infringing ?Sorry? feature keyboard synthesizers, samples, synth bass, drums, and percussion. Although ?Sorry? does not include horns like ?Ring the Bell,? ?Sorry? uses a synthesizer patch to resemble a trumpet.
Both ?Ring the Bell? and the infringing ?Sorry? feature breath-like sounds to complement the vocal riff.
I don’t mean to pile on Dienel here. That vocal riff does sound similar, and I can certainly understand why she would feel like this was unfair and potentially illegal. They apparently even got a musicologist to sign off on a claim that the works are the same. The filing does have one “out” in that it sometimes says that the riffs are “identical and/or strikingly similar.” So perhaps they can try to keep the case alive by arguing that even if Skrillex didn’t sample directly from the White Hinterland song, they used it as the basis of their recreation. That seems like a long shot, if the idea/expression dichotomy has any real weight, but when it comes to “strikingly similar” songs, copyright law sometimes goes… wacky.