“Baby Shark” Owner Pinkfong Faces a Copyright Infringement Lawsuit — Based on a Public Domain Song

Baby Shark

Yet another hit song is the subject of a copyright infringement lawsuit.

This time it’s the children’s song “Baby Shark” created by the South Korean brand Pinkfong, which has garnered more than 3.3 billion views on YouTube.  A musician named Johnny Only says that the song belongs to him, and he’s suing Pinkfong’s parent company SmartStudy in a South Korean court of law.

Even Only admits that “Baby Shark” predates him, however.  Although no one is quite certain of the song’s origin, it’s believed to have been a campfire chant developed at U.S. summer camps for kids sometime last century.  The song may have emerged in conjunction with the success of the “Jaws” franchise — though that’s just another theory.

In other words, this is a song without a known author — which effectively make the original version a public domain work.

Against that inconvenient fact, Only says that he’s been performing his own version of the song for around 20 years. He further says that he rewrote the original chant to focus on the sharks and make it more of a children’s song. He believes that the Pinkfong version specifically copies the version of the song that he created.

Only published this version in 2011 and also made a YouTube video for it, which currently has around 100,000 views.

This past July, the Seoul Central District Court first heard the case. But before the case can go on, the Korea Copyright Commission must review both versions of the song.

While Only insists that he should receive credit for what has become a worldwide phenomenon, SmartStudy strongly disagrees. They insist that their version of “Baby Shark” was based not on Only’s, but on the public domain version that Only based his work upon.

But Only counters that the Pinkfong version has many similarities to the unique features of his version. These similarities include:

  • The length
  • The key
  • The tempo
  • The rhythm
  • The instrumentation
  • The harmony and styles

Only further says that the two songs even use a splash at the beginning of it.

More as this case develops.

9 Responses

  1. John Matarazzo

    But Only counters that the Pinkfong version has many similarities to the unique features of his version. These similarities include:

    The length NOT PROTECTED BY COPYRIGHT
    The key NOT PROTECTED BY COPYRIGHT
    The tempo NOT PROTECTED BY COPYRIGHT
    The rhythm NOT PROTECTED BY COPYRIGHT
    The instrumentation NOT PROTECTED BY COPYRIGHT
    The harmony and styles Maybe PROTECTED BY COPYRIGHT

  2. Ian

    Oh yeah. Pinkfong is very much a copy if you listen! All Pinkfong did was have a better recording and smooth the song out and shorten it to one round.

  3. NashvilleMusicGuy

    While the lyrics to this song may be of uncertain origin and arguably in the public domain (although adapted lyrics are protected), it is not established that there is a public domain melody for this song. It appears this was traditionally a chant with no melody. (If you look up pre-2010 uploads of Baby Shark on YouTube, you’ll find many videos of campers performing Baby Shark chants with no distinct melody.)

    If Only created an original melody to accompany public domain lyrics or adapted lyrics based on public domain lyrics, he owns the copyright to that melody. Listen to his melody and listen to the PinkFong version and decide for yourself whether or not it’s the same. PinkFong appears to be arguing the lyrics AND melody are in the public domain. If they can provide any proof of this melody existing before Only’s release, they should be able to easily defeat Only’s claim.