Alicia Keys‘ "Girl on Fire" is featured prominently in a current American Express commercial and this week sits at No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100. It’s also the subject of a copyright infringement lawsuit filed last week in California federal court.
The plaintiff is Earl Shuman, an accomplished songwriter who in 1962 co-authored the composition, "Lonely Boy," a song that reached No. 2 on Billboard’s chart in 1970 after being recorded by Eddie Holman as "Hey There Lonely Girl."
Shuman believes there’s something about Keys’ song that sounds too familiar. Unfortunately, his lawsuit is rather bereft of important details, substituting an entertainment blogger’s ear in lieu of any demonstration of substantial similarity between "Girl on Fire" and "Lonely Boy/Girl."
That’s not to say there won’t be people out there who won’t compare the two songs (here and here) and spot a likeness, particularly in the way that Keys intones three notes while singing the words "lonely girl."
One of the people who noted a supposed similarity was Roger Friedman at Showbiz411, who wrote in late November of what he believed to be an uncredited sample. "In the middle of the song, Alicia sings a couplet or so from Eddie Holman’s 1970 classic ‘Hey There Lonely Girl,’" he wrote. "The song was written by Leon Carr and Earl Shuman, who are both gone to rock ‘n’ roll heaven."
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After Friedman’s post went up, Shuman apparently contacted the writer to note that he was still alive. Friedman responded by acknowledging this, questioning why Keys hadn’t cleared rights, and to say that Shuman had a "good lawyer" on the case.
A lawsuit was indeed filed, and — — the complaint quotes a substantial portion of Friedman’s original post, including a sentence that appears to have now been removed: "Keys only uses two seconds of the original, but it helps makes her record," he wrote.
If true, one would think that Shuman’s assumed good lawyer would have no problem spelling out the alleged infringement.
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Instead, in Shuman’s lawsuit against Keys, Sony Music Entertainment and others, the plaintiff points to Friedman’s blog, saying, "While the Showbiz411.com statements that Shuman has ‘gone to rock and roll heaven’ and concerning ‘two seconds’ of use are not accurate, Plaintiff alleges that the above observations by Showbiz411, in their essence, are apt."
Shuman’s lawyer, Philip Kaplan of Los Angeles, attaches a copy of his client’s songsheet but hardly goes into any discussion of Keys’ song except to spend a few graphs on its international success and the allegation that it includes a drum sample from another song.
Should plaintiffs have to do more than merely citing a blogger’s word of similarity? A copy of the complaint is below.