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Sam Smith and Normani accused of song-theft over Dancing With A Stranger

By | Published on Tuesday 8 March 2022

Sam Smith

It’s definitely the season for song-theft litigation. Sam Smith and Normani have been sued for copyright infringement over their 2019 hit ‘Dancing With A Stranger’. They are accused of ripping off an earlier track called, well, ‘Dancing With A Stranger’.

The earlier track was a collaboration between artist Jordan Vincent and producer Christopher Miranda, the latter part of production duo SKX with Rosco Banlaoi. And, they all claim, the Smith/Normani song shares a lot more with their work than merely a title.

“The hook/chorus in both songs – the most significant part and artistic aspect of these works – contains the lyrics ‘dancing with a stranger’ being sung over a nearly identical melody and musical composition”, a lawsuit filed with the Californian courts states. “In both songs, the title, hook, chorus, lyrics, and musical composition are all the same – and are repeated throughout the song giving both songs their identities”.

“It is beyond any real doubt that Smith, Normani and the other defendants copied plaintiff’s work”, the lawsuit goes on. “The protected expression in both the infringing song and plaintiff’s pre-existing work is nearly identical and is strikingly similar”.

And they are even more strikingly similar if you tweak the Smith/Normani track so that it’s at the same BPM as Vincent’s record. “It is a common practice in music production to take a reference track and speed it up or slow it down”, the lawsuit explains, adding: “This results in a natural pitch shift which places it in a different key more suited to a particular singer”.

“Tellingly”, it adds, “when plaintiff’s song is slowed down from 122 BPM to the 103 BPM used by the infringing song, the key of the two songs match. This is a further indication that plaintiff’s song was copied by defendants and that they are substantially similar”.

Not only are the two tracks “strikingly similar”, according to the plaintiffs, but the video for the Smith/Normani hit is seemed heavily influenced by the video for Vincent’s track too.

“Both videos consist of a girl performing interpretive dance alone in a minimalist studio”, the lawsuit notes, the dancing being interspersed with shots of each track’s main vocalist. “A girl dancing alone is not an obvious visual theme for a music video titled ‘Dancing With A Stranger’, tending to dispel any notion that this similarity is a coincidence”.

“When the extraordinary musical similarity between the songs is also factored in, it becomes even more apparent that it is impossible that the infringing composition and sound recording were independently created”, the lawsuit then argues.

Of course, song theft cases of this kind also need an explanation for how the creators of the latter track might have heard the earlier work. Vincent’s ‘Dancing With A Stranger’ was uploaded to SoundCloud in 2016, and then to YouTube and all the streaming services in 2017. However, it was also shopped around the music industry and – the lawsuit claims – may well have reached Normani’s people via that process.

In particular, the lawsuit cites talks in 2015 with a label called Thrive Records which was interested in using the Vincent/Miranda song for another artist. That deal never came to fruition, but the lawsuit says that the label’s owner – and other people involved in those talks – knew Normani’s management, or had connections with her former group Fifth Harmony.

Expanding on the theory that Normani’s team got access to the original ‘Dancing With A Stranger’ via Thrive Records, the lawsuit also claims that the label suddenly got back in touch with Vincent and Miranda in May/June 2020 looking to buy the rights in their song.

Given Smith and Normani’s ‘Dancing With A Stranger’ was already a hit by that point, it’s implied that maybe, at that stage, Thrive Records was trying to pre-empt any future copyright claim by Vincent et al by buying up the rights in the earlier work.

With all that in mind, Vincent, Miranda and Banlaoi would like some lovely damages. And if you want to compare the two tracks and their videos, the lawyer leading on the case for the plaintiffs has put together a nice little comparison video for you: