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Sam Smith and Normani hit back against Dancing With A Stranger song-theft lawsuit

By | Published on Wednesday 27 July 2022

Sam Smith

The lawsuit that accused Sam Smith and Normani of ripping off their 2019 hit ‘Dancing With A Stranger’ from an earlier song called ‘Dancing With Strangers’ is “rambling”, “repetitive” and contradicts itself. Or so say lawyers representing Smith and Normani.

They were both sued earlier this year over the allegations they’d ripped off that earlier work, which was written in 2015 by artist Jordan Vincent and producer Christopher Miranda.

On top of having nearly the same title and a very similar accompanying promo video to the earlier song, the lawsuit claimed, Smith and Normani’s ‘Dancing With A Stranger’ had the same “hook, chorus, lyrics, and musical composition” to that written by Vincent and Miranda.

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

But not so, say Smith and Normani’s lawyers in a new court filing this week. Yes the two songs have similar titles, but they are not identical, and anyway song titles aren’t protected by copyright.

And as for the actual music, the new filing argues, the plaintiff’s own expert report – which is being used to back up that “beyond any real doubt” claim – actually admits that there are plenty of differences between the two songs.

“Even as transcribed by plaintiff’s expert, only the first and sixth notes are the same”, the Smith/Normani side say. “Given that an uninterrupted sequence of four notes is not protected by copyright, two non-contiguous notes cannot be protected”.

Not only that, but “rather than supporting the complaint’s allegation of ‘nearly identical melody’”, the report “acknowledges the melodies are different and instead claims similarity in ‘melodic contour’ and rhythm. However, melodic contour, or the shape of a melody, is too abstract to protect by copyright, and the claimed similar rhythm is largely repeated eighth notes, which also is not protected”.

“Remarkably”, they go on, “the report confirms the chord progressions in ‘Dancing With A Stranger’ and the plaintiff’s song are different, but argues that ‘rotation of the chords’ – that is, changing them – can make them ‘almost identical’. In any event, finding similarity in the chord progressions by changing them does no good because chord progressions also are not protected”.

As is customary in song-theft lawsuits of this kind, the plaintiff’s original filing also speculated as to how the Smith/Normani team might have been exposed to the earlier song, while also noting the similarities between the videos that accompanied the two tracks. But the Smith/Normani response isn’t impressed with any of that either.

“Aside from the complaint’s hyperbole – negated by its attached report – as to supposedly identical music”, it states, “plaintiff spends much of the complaint speculating as to how the creators of ‘Dancing With A Stranger’ might have learned of plaintiff’s song. Plaintiff even claims support in that both songs’ music videos include a woman dancing alone, even though that has been seen in countless music videos before plaintiff’s song”.

The new legal filing also takes issue with what the original lawsuit says regarding the kinds of copyright infringement the defendants might be liable for and what damages might be due. With all that in mind, the new filing concludes: “Plaintiff’s complaint suffers from multiple defects that should be resolved at the pleading stage and before an answer is required”.

We await to see if the judge agrees.