An Italian court has ruled that Prince's 1994 hit "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World" was plagiarized from a song by two Italian writers. However, it could take several years for a definitive ruling in the case, which has already dragged on since the 1990s.
According to a sentence handed down by the Court of Appeal in Rome, the song borrowed heavily from "Takin' Me to Paradise," written by Bruno Bergonzi and Michele Vicino.
Under the ruling, Prince must stop distributing the song on Italian territory. He also faces having to pay the royalties he has so far accumulated to Bergonzi and Vicino and their publishers, but only if a final hearing confirms the Italian songwriting duo was plagiarized.
"Our song was first released in 1983, at the height of the Italian dance boom and it appeared on assorted compilations that were distributed internationally," Bergonzi tells Billboard.com. "When we first heard Prince's song we immediately took action, but this case has been dragging on for 15 years and it isn't over yet, such is the slowness of the Italian legal system. We only decided to go public with our story now."
The ruling is in fact an appeal against the original sentence, which, in 2003, rejected Bergonzi and Vicino's claim. This latest ruling was actually made in December 2007 and registered on Feb. 11 last year, but Bergonzi and Vicino have only now spoken out.
For a sentence to become definitive in Italy, a "third degree" ruling is necessary and this could take several more years.
When the case began, publishing for both sides in Italy was handled by Warner/Chappell, in the form of Fortissimo (on behalf of Controversy Music) for Prince, and Chappell for Bergonzi and Vicino. However, Controversy Music and Prince are now represented by Universal Music Publishing.
"We are waiting to see the outcome of the third and final sentence," Universal Music Publishing Italy managing director Claudio Buja tells Billboard.com. "We're wary of making a comment at this stage, but I can say that plagiarism cases are invariably delicate and difficult."
Spokespeople for Prince and Warner/Chappell Italy could not be reached for comment.