U2 Accused of Copyright Infringement

On February 27, 2017, Paul Rose, a British guitarist, filed a complaint against the band, U2 (band members include Paul David Hewson (Bono), David Howell Evans (The Edge), Adam Clayton, Laurence Joseph Mullen Jr.) and Island Records, a division of Universal Music Group, Inc. in the United States District Court – Southern District of New York. In the complaint, Rose claims that U2 violated copyright infringement laws (Direct Copyright Infringement, and Contributory and Vicarious Copyright Infringement) in their song, “The Fly.” Rose is requesting damages of $5 million dollars.

Rose claims that U2’s song, “The Fly,” contains many musical similarities to his song, “Nae Slappin.” He believes that these similarities are not a coincidence. The complaint states that, in the summer of 1989, Rose provided a demo of “Nae Slappin” to Island Records through one of his agents. Numerous senior executives at Island Records reportedly listened to and enjoyed Rose’s song. Meanwhile, in 1989, Island Records signed the band U2. Two years later, under Island Records, U2 released the “Achtung Baby” album which featured “The Fly.” When “The Fly” was released, it was evidently very popular and reached the top of the UK, Ireland, and Australia’s Singles Chart.

Specifically, in his complaint, Rose claims that “The Fly” contains many “recognizable” similarities with “Nae Slappin” such as “an elaborate and distinctive guitar solo . . . the guitar hook . . . and the percussion in “The Fly” accentuates the same points in the bass line as in [“Nae Slappin”].” To understand these claims, I listened to both Paul Rose’s “Nae Slappin” and U2’s “The Fly.” As a layperson, I admit that I am unfamiliar with musical terminology; however, there are very obvious similarities evident in the guitar solo in “The Fly.”

Unsurprisingly, copyright infringement lawsuits are common in the music industry. For example, other copyright infringement cases include Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up” (1977) and Robin Thicke and Pharrell’s “Blurred Lines” (2013), Coldplay’s “Viva la Vida” (2008) and Joe Sariani’s “If I Could Fly” (2004), and Queen & David Bowie’s “Under Pressure” (1982) and Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby” (1990). Such copyright infringement cases are usually filed within the first few years of the defendant’s song release, or it is settled out of court within that period of time.

This case is different because Rose is now suing U2 over 25 years after the supposed copyright infringement. So, why is Rose suing now? Rose claims that he recently found a prior Island Record’s employee that will corroborate that U2 utilized “Nae Slappin” when looking for inspiration during their recording of the “Achtung Baby” album.

References:

Complaint, Paul Rose v. Paul David Hewson et al., https://advance.lexis.com/r/documentprovider/t3JLk/attachment/data?attachmentid=urn:contentItem:5N00-KGJ1-DXDT-G2T1-00000-00&attachmenttype=PDF&attachmentname=Click%20to%20view%20PDF%20document&origination=BlobStore&sequencenumber=1&ishotdoc=false=

“Paul Rose – Nae Slappin,” YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BXH8wVRtl2w

“U2 – The Fly Official Video (HD) (Full Version),” YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Y1YFH9A3Bw

“U2 Sued for Allegedly Stealing From British Guitarist Paul Rose on Achtung Baby’s “The Fly”,” Spin, http://www.spin.com/2017/02/u2-the-fly-lawsuit-paul-rose/

“8 Songs Accused of Plagiarism That Hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100,” Billboard, http://www.billboard.com/articles/news/list/6501950/songs-accused-plagiarism-no-1-hot-100-blurred-lines

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