A songwriter who sued Mariah Carey over accusations that she stole her “All I Want for Christmas is You” from his earlier song has dropped his lawsuit — for now.
Mississippi artist Vince Vance filed his copyright lawsuit this summer, claiming Carey’s 1994 holiday blockbuster infringed his 1989 song of the same name. It was no small accusation: Carey’s “All I Want” has reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 during each of the past three holiday seasons.
But in a court filing on Tuesday, Vance’s attorneys moved to voluntarily dismiss the case against Carey. The move means the case will be dismissed, but leaves the door open for Vance to refile the case in the future. Attorneys for both Carey and Vance did not return requests for comment.
Vance sued in June, claiming his “All I Want for Christmas is You” was recorded in 1989 and had received “extensive airplay” during the 1993 holiday season — a year before Carey released her better-known song under the same name. Calling Carey’s track a “derivative” of his own, he demanded at least $20 million in damages from her, co-writer Walter Afanasieff and Sony Music.
The lawsuit against Carey surprised many when it was filed. Wasn’t it too late for Vance to bring his case? There must be a statute of limitations for suing over a song that’s been in the zeitgeist for nearly three decades, right?
But the surprising answer to that question is no, thanks largely to a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2014 on the movie Raging Bull, which overturned long-standing rules that limited how long a copyright owner can wait before taking action in court.
In the music industry, the Raging Bull ruling has sparked a number of lawsuits in recent years over decades-old copyright disputes, like a high-profile case against Led Zeppelin over “Stairway To Heaven.” Another case accused U2 of infringement over 1991’s “The Fly,” while Meat Loaf was hit with another suit over 1993’s “I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That).”
But just because someone can bring a lawsuit doesn’t mean they’ll win it — and experts told Billboard this summer that Vance’s allegations over “All I Want for Christmas is You” would still face a difficult road ahead in court.
Though the two songs share an identical name and single lyric, that’s where the similarities pretty much end. And that name is hardly unique: records at the U.S. Copyright Office show many other songs with the name “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” including a number from before either Carey or Vance’s songs were written.
“The only similarity he claims is in the title of the song, not the music or lyrics,” Paul Fakler, a veteran music litigator at the law firm Mayer Brown, told Billboard this summer. “Words and short phrases are not protectable under copyright law, and there are dozens of other songs with that same title.”
Before Vance moved to drop the case this week, very little actual litigation had taken place in the intervening four months and the case was still in the earliest procedural stages. His attorneys did not respond to questions about why they dropped the case or whether they plan to refile it.