Chart-topping singer Robbie Williams and his publisher must pay royalties to the owners of a song whose lyrics he plagiarized, a judge ruled today (Feb. 14) in London. Judge Nicholas Pumfrey rejected a request for more damages from Ludlow Music Inc., which holds the copyright to the Woody Guthrie song “I Am the Way.”
The High Court ruled in October 2000 that Williams had copied substantial portions of the song for “Jesus in a Camper Van,” a track from his 1998 album “I’ve Been Expecting You.” The original song, which Guthrie wrote in 1961 and Loudon Wainwright III adapted in 1973, included the lines: “Every Son of God gets a little hard luck sometimes, especially when he goes round saying he is the way.”
The Williams song contained the line: “I suppose even the Son of God gets it hard sometimes, especially when he goes round saying I am the way.”
Williams and his collaborators admitted using elements of the Wainwright version, and credited him on the album. But he and publisher EMI had not agreed to Ludlow’s request for 50% of the song royalties. EMI had offered 25% instead. Ludlow fought the offer in court.
Pumfrey ruled Williams should pay 25% of the royalties — about $71,000 — along with a similar amount in Ludlow’s costs. He also granted an injunction that bars future use of the part of the lyric that infringed copyright and prevents new pressings of the recording.
Pumfrey said additional damages were not justified because the copyright infringement had not been cynical or flagrant. The judge, who said he had “grave doubts as to who has actually won this case,” granted both sides permission to appeal.
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