Le Tigre Sues Barry Mann To Stop Copyright Threats Over Song, Lights Barry Mann On Fire As Well

from the oooooh-get-him dept

It takes a special kind of hubris to appropriate music and lyrics not just from another artist, but another cultural genre of artists, and then threaten someone else for “stealing” what you’ve “stolen”. Meet Barry Mann. If that name doesn’t sound terribly familiar to you, fear not, as he is known for the 1961 hit song Who Put The Bomp? and other songs from decades ago. And if that song title doesn’t sound familiar, you’ve almost certainly heard the song. To jog your memory, it includes such made up words as “ramalama ding dong”. See, those are called vocables: made up syllables used to effectuate rhythmic form rather than meaning. You can listen to the song below to get an idea of what I’m talking about.

“The Mann”, which is what I’ll be calling him from here on out, is still kicking at 82 and apparently is learning a new hobby: threatening other artists with copyright claims. He and/or his legal representatives apparently sent a cease and desist notice to Le Tigre, a feminist punk band, over a song called Decepticon. See, Decepticon takes a couple of lyrics found in The Mann’s song and repurposes them to become a feminist anthem. For that and one additional reason that we’ll get into later, Le Tigre filed suit for declaratory relief of The Mann’s copyright infringement claim. Here is Decepticon so you can go hear for yourself just how copyright-infringe-y this all isn’t.

Between the suit and the song itself, you should notice a number of things. First off, you may be thinking to yourself that this song sounds decidedly retro for punk music. That’s because the song came out twenty years ago and has long been Le Tigre’s most famous song. Why a lawsuit is only being filed now is an open question. In addition, the use of the lyrics is minimal and the song itself is nothing remotely like The Mann’s song.

Additionally, even if Defendants had a legitimate claim to ownership of the small portion of Bomp lyrics at issue, they nonetheless have no copyright infringement claim against Le Tigre or its licensees because Le Tigre’s transformative use of those lyrics in Deceptacon is an emblematic case of fair use under Section 107 of the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 107.

Transformative use? Let’s get into that. You may also have noticed that the lyrics are actually slightly different. For instance, the lyric to start the song is no longer “who put the bomp”, it’s “who took the bomp”.

Deceptacon’s reference to and inversion of the Bomp lyrics at issue delivers a stinging indictment and parody of Bomp, which is clear from a comparison of the songs’ lyrics and sharply contrasting musical styles, as critics have noted over the decades. Bomp, written from a man’s perspective, begins with the statement: “I’d like to thank the guy who wrote the song that made my baby fall in love with me.” Bomp’s singer asks, “Who put the bomp in the bomp bah bomp bah bomp?” and “Who put the ram in the rama lama ding dong?” Deceptacon, by contrast, is a feminist anthem that begins with the proposition that music “is sucking my heart out of my mind” and continues to ask, “Who took the bomp from the bomp-a-lomp-a-lomp?” and “Who took the ram from the rama-lama-ding-dong?” Thus, Le Tigre’s use of the lyrics that appear in Bomp instills those lyrics with a new meaning that is directly at odds with and a clear criticism of the message in Bomp, which is precisely the sort of fair use that Section 107 of the Copyright Act is designed to protect.

But parody and criticism of what? Well, there certainly is the feminist angle to it, yes, and Le Tigre is well known for creating that sort of stinging lyrics within its songs. But not just the feminist critique. Remember the change from “put” to “took”? Well…

The Bomp lyrics putatively at issue are mainly comprised of song titles and non-lexical vocables (nonsense syllables used in music). But Mr. Mann did not create these vocables or song titles; rather, it appears that Mr. Mann and his cowriter copied them from Black doo-wop groups active during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Specifically, it appears that Mr. Mann took “bomp-bah-bomp-bah-bomp” from The Marcels’ distinctive version of “Blue Moon,” which sold over a million copies, and “rama lama ding dong” from the Edsels’ then-popular “Rama Lama Ding Dong.” In short, the Bomp lyrics at issue are not original to Mr. Mann, and Defendants have no legitimate copyright claim in them.

And that is how this all comes full circle, in a way. The Mann threatened a punk feminist group over a song it created with lyrics designed to specifically criticize how he appropriated those lyrics from black doo-wop groups in the 60s. Like I said, that takes a nearly impressive amount of hubris.

As far as copyright cases go, this should be an easy one for the courts.

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Comments on “Le Tigre Sues Barry Mann To Stop Copyright Threats Over Song, Lights Barry Mann On Fire As Well”

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This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

'I called dibs, that means it's mine now!'

There’s no own-goal quite like accusing someone of infringing on ‘your’ stuff only for them to point out that no, they didn’t, and in fact if anyone’s an infringer it’s you for cribbing from someone else for the content you’re now claiming is yours.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Copyright infringement only has a three year statute of limitations after the rightsholder "knew or should have known" about the alleged infringement. If the song is 22 years old, I find it hard to believe that they’re only discovering the alleged infringement now.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"If the song is 22 years old, I find it hard to believe that they’re only discovering the alleged infringement now"

That’s the most believable and least silly part of this – a man didn’t discover a new punk song immediately on its release while he was in his 60s.

That doesn’t excuse people being sued decades after their work was released, but it’s not quite as ridiculous as Men At Work being sued in 2009 over a song that you had to work pretty hard to avoid hearing back in the 80s (which, should we be sadly reminded, successfully).

Oh, and if we need any further ammo as to the evils of copyright abuse, I spotted this gem from the Wikipedia article about the song Down Under while checking that I remembered the above year correctly:

"Colin Hay has since suggested that the deaths of his father, Jim, in 2010, and of Men at Work flute player Greg Ham in 2012 were directly linked to the stress of the court case.[38]"

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

That’s the most believable and least silly part of this – a man didn’t discover a new punk song immediately on its release while he was in his 60s.

From the Wikipedia entry:

Opening track "Deceptacon" references Barry Mann’s 1961 single "Who Put the Bomp (in the Bomp, Bomp, Bomp)" by asking "Who took the Bomp from the Bompalompalomp?".[27][28] It denounces a decline in meaningful lyrics in rock music.[15] Hanna expressed frustration that riot grrrl had been transformed into icons like the Spice Girls.[29] The song was popularized by online videos of its "aerobicon" choreography.[8] "Deceptacon" was featured in the 2006 Norwegian film Reprise, the 2003 skateboarding film Yeah Right!, the 2015 documentary film Hurricane of Fun: The Making of Wet Hot, the 2014 animated film The Book of Life, a Pandora Radio advertisement featuring British virtual band Gorillaz,[30] the fourth episode of the Netflix series Special and the trailer for the 2019 film Between Two Ferns: The Movie.

So that’s the Wikipedia entry that noticed, references to others who noticed, and several places the song was used. While you might be able to give Mann himself a pass, what about the label? I’m thinking it might not be that hard to justify they "knew or should have known."

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"Is there not a tradition of white singers copying old r and b songs written by black writers"

There most certainly is. Also traditional tribal / aboriginal folk songs, etc.

"I hope this case is quickly shutdown in court even if he’s the Man"

Yeah, the problem is that even though most of the people who did such things are long dead, a lot of them signed to labels who are now part of corporations who are fighting constantly to make copyright effectively infinite. So, if a new artist reuses something that should by the rules at the time even the rip-off was recorded should have been long in the public domain by now, they risk being sued by someone who smells a profit and may decide not to take the risk. Which is the exact opposite of what the the copyright agreement was intended to be.

Lostinlodos (profile) says:


Ohkay. Here’s my take on the songs at issue.

I’d like to thank the guy Who wrote the song That made my baby Fall in love with me

So to start off with, he at the time, already admits to the borrowed lyrics.

But I always had a slightly different opinion on the meaning of the chorus.

For me it was always a true secondary question. A racial one. Did a black man write the lyrics my “baby” loves.

The song doesn’t question who “sung” but who “put” or wrote.

That aside… we have this:

Boogity boogity boogity
Boogity boogity boogity shoo
Which is claimed to be a reference to CC’s song, pony, according to a few sources (see genius) but that’s not completely accurate alone.

That itself, the song, comes from a demo recording of Screaming Jay where he put his later-famous play hoodoo persona on display. Popping back into a recording session wearing a cape and white mask:

“Boogity boogity boogity”
And then yelling
“boo! “
That outtake is available on the When Radio Was/Time/Life Tape/Recored set I Put A Spell On You: Best of Screaming Jay.

Which furthers my opening
I see a frat boy in desperate need to understand his footing in life when he’s pulling lyrics from black singers.

So he’s not just complaining about lyrics he borrowed, but borrowed lyrics he borrowed.

:facepalm: in the most obvious of ways!

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