Wednesday, April 20, 2016

TMFW 137 - The Judiciary Gets in on the Act (Part 1)

Last year, the singer Jessie Braham (or maybe Graham; sources differ) sued Taylor Swift, claiming that she had plagiarized his song "Haters Gonna Hate" when writing her blockbuster hit "Shake It Off."  Braham had not much evidence behind him to sustain that allegation, other than that the refrain of his tune featured the lines "haters gonna hate, and players gonna play," while Swift's used "'cause the players gonna play play play play play / and the haters gonna hate hate hate hate hate..."

If you have listened to Braham's song (linked above), you have likely already concluded that other than the weak similarity of sharing two well-known phrases, there is precious little in common between the two songs.  (You may have also concluded that Braham's song is pretty bad.)  Last fall, a federal court agreed and dismissed the suit.  In her opinion (pdf link), federal magistrate judge Gail Standish did an excellent job highlighting both the legal standard for copyright claims and why Braham failed to meet it.  But what makes her dismissal order the topic of today's TMFW is her concluding paragraph.  In it, Judge Standish worked in references to 4 Taylor Swift songs, writing:

"At present, the Court is not saying that Braham can never, ever, ever get his case back in court,” Standish wrote. “But, for now, we have got problems, and the Court is not sure Braham can solve them. As currently drafted, the Complaint has a blank space—one that requires Braham to do more than write his name. And, upon consideration of the Court's explanation . . . Braham may discover that mere pleading Band-Aids will not fix the bullet holes in his case. At least for the moment, Defendants have shaken off this lawsuit."

As you might guess, Judge Standish's playfulness was noted widely by the press (e.g. this, this, this, this, this, this, this, and this.)  And when you think about, it was pretty fearless of her.  But it paid off beyond her wildest dreams: I bet Judge Standish had the best day reading about it.

I've got a bit more on this theme, but in the interest of being finished for today, and of padding my TMFW drafts folder, let's leave it here for now.  See you next week for the exciting conclusion.


BONUS FACT: Similar to the strange-but-true story in TMFW 131 about Sarah McLachlan being sued by her stalker for inspiring a song, in 2003 Eminem was sued for defamation by the man that bullied him as a younger man and inspired a verse in the song "Brain Damage." 

In awarding summary judgment to Eminem, Michigan state court judge Deborah Servitto wrote a 14-page opinion that lays out the legal and factual details in plain language.  But, like Judge Standish, she had a little bit of fun at the end, including a final footnote that explained her ruling in ten stanzas (36 lines) of "rap." (sample lyrics: "If the language used is anything but pleasin' / It must be highly objectionable to a person of reason," and "It is therefore this Court's ultimate position / That Eminem is entitled to summary disposition.")

Kudos to Judge Servitto for losing herself in the moment and turning out such a goofy, great opinion. 

BONUS FACT 1.5:  It was particularly audacious of Eminem's bully to sue him: the abuse was so bad that in 1982 Eminem's mom sued the school district to stop it, naming specifically the kid who is referred to in Eminem's song and alleging that young Em suffered a cerebral concussion and post-traumatic headaches as a result of the beatings.  Holy cow.  

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