Universal Music Group Prevails In ‘Generic Lyrics’ Copyright Infringement Suit

Plaintiff Alisa Apps just couldn’t prove that UMG and John Newman had ripped off her generic lyrics.

Two years ago, singer/songwriter Alisa Apps filed a lawsuit against Universal Music Group (UMG) and British pop star John Newman.

According to Apps, Newman and UMG had blatantly ripped off her song, “Need To Know.”  Specifically, both had knowingly used Apps’ lyrics “I need to know now” in Newman’s “Love Me Again.”

Now, the 9th Circuit has ruled on the case.

Nope.  You can’t copyright generic words nor short phrases.

Last year, US District Court Judge Jennifer A. Dorsey ruled the singer/songwriter failed to submit direct evidence of copying.  As such, she was ordered to show that UMG and Newman had infringed on her work, proving they had “access” to her work.

In short, Apps failed to show substantial similarity between both songs.

According to her, the lower court hadn’t considered the “substantial evidence” she had shown about both songs’ similarities.  So, Apps pressed the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to take her case.

The Ninth Circuit panel, however, didn’t find anything wrong with the lower court’s decision.

Slamming Apps’ lyrics as generic, the panel wrote,

The only lyrical commonality between both songs is the phrase ‘I need to know now.’

In fact, UMG had presented solid evidence its own singers and songwriters have previously used the generic phrase.

[These] lyrics are not original to Apps.  [Universal] showed that at least 11 songs predating Apps’ song included this common phrase.

In addition, the panel found Apps once again failed to show how Newman infringed on her work.  The only viable argument she had made is how both works sound similar.  Apps had contended UMG copied the sound recording.

The exclusive copyright in a sound recording does not extend to a recording of other sounds, ‘even though such sounds imitate or simulate those in the copyrighted sound recording.’”

Citing the copyright statute, the panel defeated Apps’ second claim.

We have held that even mimicking copyrighted recording is not infringement absent actual copying.

You can view the ruling below.


Featured image by Drew d. f. Fawkes (CC by 2.0).

4 Responses

  1. King Shlomo

    Mimicking a Recording is not copyright infringement? Really? Since when? I thought that by definition that was copyright infringement. ?‍♂️

    • Faza (TCM)

      Depends on what you mean by “mimicking”.

      To date, simply having similarities between works was generally not considered sufficient to show copyright infringement (“Blurred Lines” is a notable exception; for bad reasons, as far as I’m concerned). If it were, we couldn’t have artistic genres in any meaningful sense of the word – having an identifiable genre means a large collection of works that show substantial similarity. In most cases, we can even pinpoint the genre-defining works and demonstrate how subsequent works are drawing inspiration from them (“mimicking”).

      People aren’t losing infringement lawsuits right-and-left over this.

    • Anonymous

      I belive the recording Industry has made the case numerous times as well.
      I guess since it’s not them it’s different as always.

  2. Anonymous

    They should have lost.
    It would have been no mercy if they were doing the suing.