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US children’s entertainer sues Pinkfong over Baby Shark

By | Published on Friday 23 August 2019

Baby Shark

Pinkfong’s ‘Baby Shark’ is an undeniable phenomenon. But could the whole thing have been stolen? Children’s entertainer Johnny Only is claiming that it certainly was. From him. And that is why he is now suing the South Korean entertainment firm.

The claim is complicated, because the origins of the ‘Baby Shark’ song are unknown. The campfire chant is thought to have developed through children’s summer camps in the US at some point in the 20th century, possibly inspired by the film ‘Jaws’. Though that version was somewhat less toddler-friendly than the one popularised by Pinkfong, with the lyrics running through a loss of limbs one by one as the shark attacks.

Wanting to bring the song to a younger audience, Only rewrote it all to focus on a family of sharks, rather than having the song’s narrator eventual eaten away. He has been performing that version now for around two decades. So when he heard the Pinkfong version, he felt he’d been ripped off.

Hence he is now suing Pinkfong’s parent company SmartStudy for copyright infringement. The first hearing in the case actually took place at the Seoul Central District Court last month. The Korea Copyright Commission is now set to review both songs before the case can proceed further.

“On a personal level, it has been a bit weird”, Only tells USA Today. “Especially because I feel like I am the one who started [the ‘Baby Shark’ phenomenon]”.

However, SmartStudy dismisses Only’s claims of ownership of a family-themed version of the song, saying: “Pinkfong’s ‘Baby Shark’ is based on a traditional singalong chant which has passed to public domain. Produced by SmartStudy, we are the producer and publisher, we own and control 100% of [our version of the song]”.

Only published his version in 2011 and produced a YouTube video for it, which currently has a little over 100,000 views (compared to Pinkfong’s five billion for its various videos of the song).

Proving that Pinkfong ripped Only off may prove difficult though. ‘Baby Shark’ has a long history that pre-dates his rework and other more young-child friendly versions definitely exist in various forms online that pre-date his recording. His and Pinkfong’s versions also differ musically and lyrically.

Still, Only insists that there are too many similarities for it to be an accident, adding: “The shortened length, the key, the addition of instrumentation, the type of instrumentation, the rhythm, the tempo, the sanitation of the lyrics for toddler age audiences, the tempo change mid song, the splash at the beginning … even some of the harmony styles and things like adding a lower voice when they introduce daddy shark [are all the same]”.

You can compare the two versions below, assuming you don’t mind having that bloody song stuck in your head for the rest of the day like I now have.