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.


Today In Madonna History: August 20, 2012

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On August 20 2012, a law suit was filed by nine Russians who were offended that Madonna had asked fans to raise their hands to show their support for the Russian LGBT community during a concert stop in St. Petersburg, Russia—where it is illegal to promote homosexuality to minors.

In her speech during the concert, Madonna called for members of Russia’s LGBT community to be “treated with dignity, with respect, with compassion, with love,” and took the country to task for crackdowns on those who expressed opposition against the country’s oppressive laws.

“I feel people are becoming more and more afraid of people who are different; people are becoming more intolerant,” she said. “It’s a very scary time, but we can make a difference. We can change this. We have the power. And we don’t have to do it with violence; we just have to do it with love.”

Although the suit did make it to trial in November 2012, it was promptly dismissed by the presiding judge after briefly questioning the plaintiffs about the arbitrary nature of the case given the volume of contemporary entertainment which contains “positive references to homosexuality.” The suit had sought damages of approximately $10.5 million from Madonna, the organizer of her concert, and the hall where it was held.

Today In Madonna History: August 2, 1985

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On August 2 1985, Madonna lost a court battle against director Stephen Jon Lewicki over the video release of A Certain Sacrifice. The low-budget indie film starring Jeremy Pattnosh and Madonna was shot sporadically over a two-year period in New York City between 1979 and 1981. The film also featured Madonna’s former Breakfast Club bandmate Angie Smit in a minor role.

Madonna was said to have been unhappy with the inclusion of several topless scenes in the film, although it has also been reported that despite instigating the court case, her lawyers did not present much of an argument during the proceedings, leading some to speculate that she had no serious interest in blocking the release of the film. After a limited number of screenings in New York in October 1985, the film was quickly issued on home video and laserdisc in order to capitalize on Madonna’s fame. In more recent years, the film has been reissued on DVD.

Lewicki was not the only person attached to the film who was attempting to hitch a ride on Madonna’s wave of success in the mid 1980’s. While it is unclear whether he was involved as an extra or behind the scenes, top Madonna mooch Otto Von Wernherr is also thanked in the film’s credits. It does not appear that any of his music was used in the film, which for once is actually unfortunate because Von Wernherr’s songs would have sounded right at home alongside the truly bizarre musical selections, including several by Pattnosh, that are showcased throughout A Certain Sacrifice.  Perhaps it was Lewicki’s fringe fetish that ruled out the possibility of using any of Madonna’s pre-Warner tunes in the film?