Australian singer-songwriter Allan Caswell is alleging in a lawsuit that the band Alabama stole its 1982 chart-topping hit, "Christmas in Dixie," from the song he penned as the theme for the 1980s Australian television soap, "The Prisoner."
What makes the case peculiar, besides litigation over songs created more than three decades ago, is that in Caswell's new lawsuit, he isn't suing Alabama, but rather his own music publisher, Sony ATV Music Publishing Australia, for failing to collect royalties from the alleged lift. Both Caswell and Alabama are signed to different divisions of Sony Music.
The dispute is being fought at the Supreme Court of New South Wales.
"It's not a plagiarism lawsuit," Caswell told The Telegraph. "it's about getting my publishing company (Sony) to do their job."
The fact that the songs were created so long ago might not matter in Australia, where a court two years ago determined Men at Work's 1980s megahit, "Down Under," illicitly incorporated a copyrighted children's song from the 1930s.
According to the latest lawsuit, Sony had a musicologist examine the two songs in 2004 and concluded that the works "shared a level of similarity that went beyond what he would consider to be a random occurrence of sheer coincidence."
But this isn't a case alleging copyright infringement. Here's the twist: Both have Sony connections.
"That's the problem," Caswell told a local TV station in Australia. "I'm signed to Sony ATV. Alabama is signed to Sony Music. So it's all in-house. There's no incentive for them to take action. They basically can't take action because they'd be suing themselves."
According to reports, Sony says it is defending the claim.
Here's a feature on this sticky situation from Today Tonight on the Seven Network, including a listen to what the two songs sound like: