Kanye West has cited 19th century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche in an attempt to convince the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold the dismissal of a claim he stole his hit song "Stronger" from another songwriter.
In a brief submitted Friday, West's lawyers make the case that it's ludicrous for the plaintiff, Vincent Peters, to make a copyright allegation on a rap lyric said to derive from one of Nietzsche's century-old maxims.
Peters, a Virginia man, sued West in 2010 claiming that "Stronger," which won a Grammy and is one of the most downloaded songs on iTunes of all time, was an illegitimate copy of a song he recorded in 2006. Peters argued that he gave a copy of his song to West's aptly named business manager, John Monopoly, whom Peters believes provided West access to his work.
Earlier this year, a federal judge dismissed the claim, finding not enough substantial similarity between the two songs.
Peters was undeterred. As Nietzsche once said: "All things are subject to interpretation. Whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth."
An appeal to a higher authority was made, giving West's attorney, Carrie Hall at Pryor Cashman, an opportunity to ridicule the plaintiff for his song theft allegations. If the plaintiff were to succeed, Hall writes, "it would create a dangerously low threshold for establishing copyright protection over otherwise commonplace words and phrases."
The two songs share the title "Stronger," and both have references to supermodel Kate Moss, but the biggest claim of substantial similarity comes in the chorus:
Both parties admit that the chorus is a derivation from Nietzsche's maxim "That which does not kill us makes us stronger." And both songs do the business of rhyming "stronger" with "wronger," a wordplay that might garner the approval of Nietzsche, author of "Beyond Good and Evil."
But West's lawyer believes this isn't enough to support a claim for infringement. She argues that it's the plaintiff's responsibility to allege sufficient facts to establish substantial similarity and that a district court judge is within proper boundaries to examine the lyrics and make a determination whether they rise to the standards of a copyright claim. The title, Moss reference and Nietzsche maxim are all unprotectable, said that judge.
Others have gotten into trouble for interpreting Nietzsche before, but one would think that the old philosopher would have approved of Peters' bold assertion of ownership and drive toward an appeal as a will to power. Unfortunately, for Peters, Nietzsche seems to also have a healthy skepticism of facts as the foundation of knowledge, suggesting the philosopher might ultimately agree with West here. Oh well, if the plaintiff doesn't win, at very least he can take some consolation in the Nietzschean maxim that serves as the inspiration for both the songs in question.
Read the brief here.