Not How Any Of This Works: Mariah Carey Sued Over Title Of Song
from the copyright-grifting dept
You may have heard that, on Friday, Mariah Carey and Sony Music were sued by a guy named Andy Stone (pretty sure a different Andy Stone than the one who leads communications for Facebook) for allegedly infringing on his song “All I Want For Christmas, Is You.” What you might not have heard is that this is possibly the dumbest, most ridiculous copyright lawsuit I’ve seen in ages, and I see a lot of really dumb copyright lawsuits. You can read the nine-page lawsuit yourself, and marvel at the fact that two lawyers actually put their names on a complaint so frivolous. My biggest question is whether the lawyers or Stone will end up paying the legal fees of Carey and Sony, not to mention the sanctions against the lawyers.
Let’s get the basics out of the way first. The two songs are different. The only similarity is the title. That’s it. There is no copying. This isn’t a Blurred Lines kind of situation where the songs sound kinda similar. They’re entirely different songs. The only thing they have even remotely in common is the name. I hesitate to link to either song, because the Carey song is absolutely ubiquitous and totally unavoidable during the holiday season, and it should be a crime to listen to it before Thanksgiving. As for the Stone song, released by Stone’s alter ego Vince Vance and the Valiants, there’s a big part of me that wonders if this is all just an abuse of the legal system to try to get some attention to his own song. But, for the sake of completeness, here’s the Carey version, released in 1994, and here’s the Stone/Vance version, released in 1989.
So, the songs are totally different. The music is different. The music style is different. The lyrics are different. The title is the same, and I guess you could argue that the “theme” of the songs are the same, but there’s no copyright in the theme that a song is about. That’s not a thing. Under US copyright law, you cannot copyright “words and short phrases such as names, titles, and slogans.”
And, even if you could magically make the title covered by copyright — and you cannot — Stone would have a bigger problem, because soul singer Carla Thomas released a song with that same title, written by Andrew Charles “AC” Wiliams, in 1963. You can hear that one too, if you want. It also has the same title and “theme” and came out more than two and a half decades before Stone’s song. So if Carey’s version somehow infringes on Stone’s (it doesn’t), then Stone’s would necessarily infringe on the Williams/Thomas song.
Of course, that’s not how any of this works, and even a halfway decent copyright lawyer would tell you that. However, Stone’s lawyers, Douglas Schmidt and Andrew Abrams, do not appear to be halfway decent copyright lawyers. They appear to be absolutely terrible lawyers.
Almost every part of the complaint is a problem. It’s almost as if Schmidt and Abrams didn’t even want to put in the bare minimum level of effort to file a complaint. It’s filed in federal court in Louisiana. Why is Louisiana the right venue? The complaint does not say. The complaint admits that none of the parties is a resident of Louisiana (Stone is the closest, but he’s in Mississippi). The only incredibly weak argument they make, which is not nearly enough to make Louisiana the venue, is that Sony Music is “authorized to do and doing business in the State of Louisiana.” That’s not enough to argue jurisdiction.
They then claim that Stone’s song is copyrightable subject matter, which, sure, it is. But they never allege (because they cannot) that Carey’s song copies any of Stone’s song (because it did not). Also, this is not a big deal, but they claim that the copyright registration was filed as Exhibit A when it appears they forgot to actually file it. The docket on PACER shows no such exhibit, though I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that the song was actually registered. But, unless they can show that a copyright-protected element of the song was copied in an infringing manner, there’s no legitimate complaint here, and Stone’s lawyers don’t even try to claim that!
This is basically the extent of the argument in the complaint:
Defendants never sought or obtained permission from Plaintiff to use “All I Want for Christmas is You” in creating, reproducing, recording, distributing, selling, or publicly performing said song.
Plaintiff never gave Defendants permission, consent, or a license to use “All I Want for Christmas is You” for any purpose, including the creation of a derivative work based on “All I Want for Christmas is You”.
Except… they didn’t need to obtain permission because they didn’t copy anything. I mean, this is basic stuff that even non-copyright lawyers understand.
In the specific copyright claim, they argue:
Plaintiff became aware of Defendants use of his work “All I Want for Christmas is You”, without license, right or authority, and by reproducing and distributing to the worldwide general public via the internet and interstate commerce. Plaintiff’s counsel initially made contact with Defendants in April of 2021 to regarding the unauthorized use of the song. Thereafter, Plaintiff’s counsel sent a letter via certified mail on or about December 20, 2021, regarding the unauthorized use of “All I Want for Christmas is You”, thereby putting them on notice that the creation a derivative work, without authorization and payment to Plaintiff represents a violation of Plaintiff’s rights under 17 U.S.C. Sections 106, et seq.
But, again, that’s not how any of this works. Nowhere is any copying ever alleged, because it can’t be.
There is also the issue of the statute of limitations. There is a three year statute of limitations on copyright, but the Supreme Court has decided this means that even if you miss the initial three year window, you can still sue for the most recent three years. So, if there was infringement — which again, I feel the need to remind you, there is not, nor is any actually alleged — then they could be suing over the most recent three years of infringement.
The complaint doesn’t even seem to acknowledge this and just asks for $20 million dollars for “willful copyright infringement, in addition to punitive damages and compensation for the damages.” He’s not getting that. And given that under copyright law it’s much easier for a defendant to get plaintiffs to cover attorneys’ fees for frivolous litigation, it seems decently likely that Stone may be on the hook for the top flight lawyers that Sony and Carey are likely to throw at this.
Oh, and I guess I should mention that Stone’s lawyers make two other claims here: one for unjust enrichment, and one for Lanham Act violations. Neither one is well pled, because it would be impossible to plead either in any competent manner, but here the lawyers again don’t even do the bare minimum, and basically just “on information and belief” their way through a bunch of nonsense.
This is a bad complaint. It should be thrown out. Stone should have to pay Carey and Sony’s lawyers, and it seems like there’s a decent chance that Stone’s lawyers could face Rule 11 sanctions for filing such a silly, poorly drafted, bullshit lawsuit.