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Justin Bieber accused of ripping off 80s song

By | Published on Friday 22 April 2022

Justin Bieber

When country pop duo Dan + Shay teamed up with Justin Bieber in 2019 to release their hit ‘10,000 Hours’, they marked the occasion by ripping off the 1980s soul song ‘The First Time Baby Is A Holiday’. Or so says the company that owns the copyright in the 1980s soul song ‘The First Time Baby Is a Holiday’. In fact, it reckons, the musical “theft” committed by Dan, Shay and Bieber is “impudently bold”.

So, yes, this is yet another song-theft lawsuit, this time filed with the courts in California. The company suing is called Melomega Music, a business originally set up in the 1970s by songwriter Frank Fioravanti, who co-wrote ‘The First Time Baby Is a Holiday’ with Palmer Rakes in 1980.

Despite the big ‘Blurred Lines’ ruling in 2015, in which it was concluded that Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams had infringed the copyright in Marvin Gaye’s ‘Got To Give It Up’ when writing their hit, in more recent song-theft cases of this kind the courts have generally been cautious about ruling that where two songs have similar elements, the newer one must have infringed rights in the older one. And that is especially so in the Californian courts that sit under the Ninth Circuit appeals court.

However, in its lawsuit Melomega is keen to stress the significant and extensive similarities between ‘10,000 Hours’ and ‘First Time Baby’ which, it says, are incredibly unlikely to have occurred by coincidence. It also reckons that the similarities are significant enough that – unlike in some other recent song-theft cases – defendants can’t argue that any segments shared by the two songs are too short and too common place to be protected by copyright in isolation.

“Defendants’ theft is impudently bold”, says the lawsuit. “One need only listen to ‘First Time Baby’ and the infringing ‘10,000 Hours’ to discern the unmistakable similarities between the songs”.

“However, subjective analysis aside”, it adds, “when the songs are viewed through the objective, empirical lens of musical science – as was done in this case by one of the top musicology experts in the industry – defendants’ infringement is unmistakable. The result: a single, universal and ineluctable conclusion that defendants stole plaintiff’s song”.

That expert, in case you wondered, is musicologist Dr Alexander Stewart. Through extensive analysis, the lawsuit insists, he “came to the immutable conclusion that not only are these songs substantially similar, but from an analysis of the most significant, core expressions of each song, ‘First Time Baby’ and ‘10,000 Hours’ are practically the same song [and] given the degree of similarity in these passages and other details ‘I consider it almost impossible that ‘10,000 Hours’ was created independently from ‘First Time Baby’”.

As for some specifics of how the two songs are the same, the lawsuits goes on: “From a general perspective, both songs have similar tempos, overall feel and form structure. More specifically, however, an analysis with respect to the ‘core expression’ of the songs is particularly striking and revealing”.

“Such core expression is found in the chorus of ‘10,000 Hours’ and the chorus/verse of ‘First Time Baby'”, it adds. “These are the most important sections of the songs in which the titles of the songs are referenced, the signature phrases and ‘hooks’ are found, and which the listener is most likely to identify and remember”.

“Dr Stewart compared the melodic themes, pitch, rhythm, length, phrasing, hook, lyrics and metric placement of these core sections of the songs”, it confirms, “and found them to be practically identical”.

As for how Dan, Shay and Bieber might have heard this 1980s soul song in order to rip it off, Melomega is keen to stress that it has formally released the track three times in the last decade, as a result of it featuring on three album releases, and that its distribution partner is The Orchard, which means the song is available on all the streaming platforms. So, definitely accessible.

As noted, courts in the US – and, via the recent ‘Shape Of You’ case, in the UK too – have proven themselves to be cautious when it comes to song-theft cases.

Judges have variously noted that lots of pop songs have musical elements in common; that short musical segments aren’t usually substantial or original enough to be protected by copyright in isolation; and that any one track being merely accessible online doesn’t necessarily make it probable that an accused artist heard said track before writing their own song.

But it remains to be seen if the arguments in this particular song-theft case can overcome that judicial caution.