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Court throws out Gwen Stefani song-theft case

By | Published on Monday 8 October 2018

Gwen Stefani

A Californian judge last week threw out a copyright case that centred on a track Gwen Stefani may or may not have first heard while having her hair done. Though whether Stefani had indeed first heard the song ‘Who’s Got My Lightah’ while having a shampoo and blow dry – allowing her to later rip it off on her track ‘Spark The Fire’ – wasn’t really discussed. The judge dismissed the case on the basis that the two songs weren’t really all that similar.

A musician called Richard Morrill sued Stefani last year accusing her and that Pharrell Williams of ripping off his ‘Lightah’ track on ‘Spark The Fire’. Morrill is best known for his stint in early 1990s band LAPD, an outfit that later morphed into Korn. He said that some years after quitting LAPD he worked as a hairstylist in California and Stefani was a client. It was at that time that he says he played the then No Doubt star his 1996 track, subsequently providing her with a copy on CD.

Morrill said Stefani’s 2014 release ‘Spark The Fire’ had a chorus with “almost identical” rhythm, melody and background music to his earlier work, while the lyrics were very similar too. There are actually two versions of ‘Who’s Got My Lightah’. The later version went “Who’s got my lightah? Who got the fire?”, while the Stefani track goes “Who got the lighter? Let’s spark the fire”. In both songs ‘fire’ is sung ‘fi-ya’, so to rhyme with ‘lighter’.

Despite those various similarities, judge Dolly M Gee last week ruled that ‘Who’s Got My Lightah’ and ‘Spark The Fire’ are not sufficiently similar to constitute copyright infringement.

According to Law360, Morrill had failed, she wrote, to “show substantial similarity” between the two songs. She reckoned that pronouncing ‘fire’ as ‘fi-ya’ wasn’t particularly distinct, nor was rhyming it with ‘lighter’. And while there may be some similarities in rhythm patterns, “the similar rhythms are used in vastly different ways in the two songs”.

With all that in mind, Gee dismissed the case through summary judgement.