Today in Madonna History: March 18, 2005

On March 18 2005, a resolution was reached in a UK copyright lawsuit (Coffey v Warner/Chappell Music Ltd. & Others) which alleged that elements of the Madonna & Patrick Leonard composition, Nothing Really Matters, had infringed on the copyright of claimant Elizabeth Coffey and her song, Forever After, performed by Peter Twomey.

The case took almost four years to reach the court and went under a considerable number of amendments by the plaintiff during that time. Coffey eventually alleged that the recording of Forever After included an original musical work, which consisted of the combination of vocal expression, pitch contour, and syncopation of or around the words “does it really matter,” but did not extend to the melody or lyrics surrounding those words.  She pleaded that the words “does it really matter” comprised the song’s lyrical hook and alleged that the copyright in Forever After was infringed by the defendants’ activities in relation to Nothing Really Matters.

In turn, the defendants moved to have the claim struck out as the method the plaintiff had identified the alleged copied elements was contrary to copyright law in general. Another defense offered was that, in any event, no copying had occurred.

The case was dismissed on the legal grounds that, in copyright, one cannot cherry pick the elements of the song that are the most similar in an attempt to build a stronger case. In his findings, the presiding Judge Blackburn, noted:
“The three somewhat elusive features identified by the claimant as her musical work cannot by any stretch of the imagination be said to be sufficiently separable from the remainder of the song as themselves to constitute a musical work. […] What the copyright work is in any given case is not governed by what the claimant alleging copyright infringement chooses to say that it is. Rather, it is a matter for objective determination by the court.”
A summary analysis and MIDI clip of the claimant’s song (which, incidentally, bears no perceivable resemblance to Nothing Really Matters) can be found here. The complete judgement in the lawsuit can be viewed here.

 

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