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.

Filed Under: casey dienel, copyright, justin bieber, sampling, skrillex, sound alike, white hinterland


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • identicon
    kallethen, 31 May 2016 @ 8:56am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Avatar28 (profile), 31 May 2016 @ 1:24pm

      Re: It's like Dark Helmet

      That was EXACTLY what came immediately to my mind on reading that. Indeed, I came here to make much the same comment if you hadn't beaten me to it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    6StringMercenary, 31 May 2016 @ 8:59am

    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.

    https://soundcloud.com/6stringmercenary/making-a-f-n-point

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      CharlieBrown, 31 May 2016 @ 9:19pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Anonymous G (profile), 31 May 2016 @ 8:59am

    Can't blame them for trying

    It worked for Chic when they sued Sugar Hill Gang for sampling their "Good Times" song in "Rappers' Delight", even though they clearly replayed it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2016 @ 9:02am

    Oh come on...

    I mean, two notes (after lowering four tones) are clearly almost the same! If Australia has taught us nothing, surely it has taught us that even one note the same in a musical composition is a clear case of copyright infringement...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    jupiterkansas (profile), 31 May 2016 @ 9:14am

    I don't know why she even bothered recording her own voice when she clearly should have just sampled Justin Bieber's.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2016 @ 11:24am

    They kind of sound identical to me, Bieber's just loops the last Oooo.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2016 @ 11:25am

    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 .

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    crade (profile), 31 May 2016 @ 11:39am

    "I can certainly understand why she would feel like this was unfair and potentially illegal"

    You mean because of the garbage propaganda she has been fed that you have absolute control over anything you ever put to wax? If you could copyright putting 5 notes together there wouldn't be any non-infringing music.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    k, 31 May 2016 @ 12:14pm

    "kind of identical" sure is a thing. Ask Vanilla Ice.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 31 May 2016 @ 1:26pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      6StringMercenary, 31 May 2016 @ 1:36pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        crade (profile), 31 May 2016 @ 4:37pm

        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.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 31 May 2016 @ 5:06pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 1 Jun 2016 @ 7:57am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 1 Jun 2016 @ 8:35am

    Ugh, thanks a lot, Casey Dienel. You're making me root for Justin Bieber. Do you have any idea how disgusting that is?!?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    AC720 (profile), 1 Jun 2016 @ 6:58pm

    Needs to be more suing! The percussion beat in Sorry! sounds JUST LIKE the percussion beat in Shakira's Hips Don't Lie. So, $$$$

    Come somebody sue something over this one.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Jun 2016 @ 7:40pm

    Use YouTube

    Why bother with the expense of lawyers and courts? Just tell YouTube you own the song and let ContentID do the rest!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Close

Add A Reply

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Shop Now: Techdirt Logo Gear
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.