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.

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.

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Comments on “Independent Musician Sues Justin Bieber & Skrillex For Copyright Infringement… Over A Sample They Didn't Use”

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kallethen says:

It's like Dark Helmet

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.

Tell me I’m not the only one who thought of the scene from Spaceballs where Dark Helmet tells Lone Starr that he’s his father’s brother’s nephew’s cousin’s former roommate.

6StringMercenary says:

In a post-“Blurred Lines” world where everybody thinks they know copyright laws or what should or shouldn’t happen, this case is getting a lot of press and it’s annoying for a few reasons.

One, it’s clearly not a sample of her voice. Not at all.

Two, the notes in the progression are not exactly the same.

Three, her “hook” stops after four notes, whereas the Skrillex one is actually followed by a descending “de-dee-da-da-da-dada” which shows the line, as he wrote it, is a larger entity than just the notes in the vocal progression.

If you need a really clear way to hear the difference, I slowed down both tracks in Ableton Live.

It’s a coincidence, and while I do want musicians to stand up for their rights, in this case, I smell a PR stunt moreso than a legitimate infringement case.

CharlieBrown says:

Re: Remember "Ice Ice Baby"?

“Ice Ice Baby” sampled “Under Pressure” by Queen and David Bowie, so much so that all the writing credits need to changed to include some of the members of Queen.

One thing I like to do is remix a song using the original and the sample so you’re listening to both. It is not a literal remix, more of a copy-and-paste in the right section to sound like it was always meant to be that way.

It turns out “Ice Ice Baby” does not actually sample “Under Pressue” but recrates the guitar notes and the little “clink clink” sound. They sound alike but when you try to mix them together they are definetly different. And the latter song definetly copied from the former, but not sample.

In a case like that, I do agree that paying royalties for “covering” the song plus adjusting the writing credits was the right way to go.

Anonymous Coward says:

The sorry version sounds better ,
its a similar riff,
but not identical .
Its not a sample from whites song.
There,s only a limited amount of notes and english words you can use in a song .
I don,t think one singer can claim legal ownership
of the words ooh oooh oooh in a song .
OF course who know what can happen in a court ,
but its not indentical to part whites song .
If you are a comic book fan theres many action scenes that are very similar but that does not mean one artist is copying the other .

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re: Stop. Calling it. Property

Of course they do. Our Glorious Leaders have said so:

IP can’t be seen or touched – it comes from your creativity or intellectual knowledge. However, like all property, it is a valuable asset that can be bought and sold, leased or licensed.

In short, IP allows you to own, control and be rewarded for your ideas.

Ownership of intellectual property means ownership of a concept or idea rather than ownership of a parcel of property or object. Of course, as with real property and chattel, intellectual property can be sold or otherwise conveyed.


I’ve actually gone blue in the face repeating myself over and over again on this issue. Sheesh!

That One Guy (profile) says:

Ah what a wonderful law...

Let’s just bask for a few moments in the idea that the law has become so warped and twisted that a few seconds of audio that sounds similar is enough to not only sue over, but said lawsuit has a higher-than-zero chance of succeeding in court.

Truly, the very field of music itself would be a barren wasteland if musicians could get away with having very small sections of their songs sound even remotely similar to very small sections in another song.

6StringMercenary says:

Re: Ah what a wonderful law...

In some ways I want to agree with you, but I also think the law is written – and cases have established – that pursuing damages over 3-5 notes in a progression because of ‘similarities’ aren’t instances of infringement.

As somebody pointed out to me a while ago, “It’s easy to sue somebody in the US – the hard part is winning” so while I think the case has no merit, it should be helpful to see where it goes.

I don’t think Skrillex or Beiber will be in any mood to settle to pay and make it go away when the accusations are pretty personal, i.e. claiming they stole it from her. Theft. If I was wrongly accused I’d fight it too.

crade (profile) says:

Re: Re: Ah what a wonderful law...

It’s warped and twisted enough so that anyone who is popular will get sued to the point they need to pay out over a song that sounds similar. It’s twisted enough so that 3-5 notes that sounds similar are good enough to take to court without getting immediately shut down. It’s that bad now, but it’s getting more twisted every day.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Of course the cartels will tell us that a robust copyright law is required to stop these sorts of things.

They will ignore their culpability in crafting a law where “feel” is a valid claim, and that 2 notes are okay but 3 means you “stole”.

Everyone can agree the wholesale copying of an entire song would be infringing, but now 3 notes are enough. Money and resources are wasted chasing who owns which 3 notes are owned by whom. More bad precedents are created further twisting copyright until no one will be able to do anything without corporations agreeing to allow each other to use those 3 notes in approved of music.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

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.

And there’s the problem: Casey Dienel has a poor understanding of the English language, as she seems to be under the impression that “creative control” somehow applies to stuff that happens after the creating has already occurred.

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