This guest post was contributed by Natalie M. Reynoso, a second-year Southwestern Law School student who is now taking the Entertainment Law and the Emerging Web course.
The internet may be one of the major forces reshaping the 21st century. But, of course, not everything on it can be believed, much less accepted in a court of law.
The rules of hearsay evidence played their own key role in a federal judge tossing a recent copyright infringement claim — filed a half century after the fact — over Gimme Some Lovin, a rock classic by music icon Steve Winwood and The Spencer Davis Group. (A tip of the hat to Loeb and Loeb for posting the ruling online.)
In Memphis, U.S. District Court Judge Jon P. McCalla has ruled that Winwood and company could not have copied a bass riff in their hit from another tune of the day, Ain’t That a Lot of Love. That’s because the British rockers did not have a reasonable possibility of accessing that song by Memphis native Homer Banks.
Banks, an African-American songwriter, singer, and record producer, was an R&B star for Stax Records in the 1960s, co-writing Ain’t That a Lot of Love in 1965 with Willa Dean Parker.
More than 50 years later, Parker and a representative for Banks sued Mervyn Winwood, Steve Winwood, Spenser Davis, The Spenser Davis Group, Kobalt Music Publishing and Universal Songs of Polygram International Inc. The suit alleged they infringed on the work by Banks and Parker.
The rock legends defended their famous work, noting that copyright and other records indicate it was written and recorded before Bank’s song. They pointed out that in the plaintiff’s suit, there was a queasy three or so weeks when they were accused of accessing and infringing on Ain’t That a Lot of Love. They provided sworn statements that they had not done so. And it wouldn’t take a historian to recall how much tougher it would have been to do so, back in the day when music was put out in written sheets and vinyl records, not all over cyberspace.
But the plaintiff’s claimed otherwise. Unfortunately, they relied on interviews, many in articles pulled down from the internet, that might have cast doubt on the opposition case.
Cue a buzzer noise. The court ruled that proffered “evidence” was hearsay and inadmissible, especially in consideration of a defense motion for summary judgement—which the judge granted for Winwood and his publisher, Kobalt Music.
Meantime, the court found it lacked jurisdiction over Mervyn Winwood and dismissed the suit against him. And Universal got itself off the legal hook when the court ruled that it had shared rights to Ain’t That a Lot of Love through a sister company and, therefore, could not be sued for infringement of a work it partly owned.
As for Steve Winwood and the Spencer Davis Group, the seemingly ageless rock pioneers also clearly own shares in a musical fountain of youth. They’re touring still, with Gimme Some Lovin a beloved part of their concert repertoire. Winwood, who has put out recordings of his greatest hits in live performance, recently sat down a broadcast interviewer to discuss his stellar career in case all the rest of us want, panting, to catch up.