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Sam Smith’s Lawyers Respond to Copyright Case: ‘Rambling’ and ‘Nonsensical’

In their first response to the case, attorneys for the singer said the lawsuit's own expert report undercut the accusations.

Attorneys for Sam Smith and Normani are hitting back at a copyright lawsuit that claims the stars stole their 2019 hit “Dancing With a Stranger” from an earlier song, calling the accusations “rambling” and “nonsensical.”

In their first response to a lawsuit filed in March that claimed Smith and Normani (real name Normani Kordei Hamilton) copied the hit from a little-known 2015 song of the same name, lawyers for the stars asked a federal judge to dismiss aspects of the case — like the claim that the stars should pay steep “statutory damages” if found liable.

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They also attacked the lawsuit’s core accusations, arguing that many of the alleged similarities between the two songs (like the so-called shape of the melody) were merely common musical tropes or abstract ideas that cannot be locked up under copyright law. And they said that the lawsuit’s own musicologist report actually supported their arguments.

“Remarkably, the report confirms the chord progressions in Dancing with a Stranger and plaintiff’s song are different, but argues that ‘rotation of the chords’—that is, changing them—can make them ‘almost identical,'” Smith’s lawyers wrote. “In any event, finding similarity in the chord progressions by changing them does no good because chord progressions also are not protected.”

Smith and Normani’s lawyers, hailing from the law firm Davis Wright Tremaine, also pointed to the famous court ruling on “Stairway To Heaven” – a victory those same lawyers won for Led Zeppelin. In that case, a federal appeals court said that songwriters cannot use copyrights to lock up basic musical “building blocks,” and that a sequence of four notes was not enough to clear that threshold.

“Even as transcribed by plaintiff’s expert, only the first and sixth notes are the same,” Smith’s lawyers wrote. “Given that an uninterrupted sequence of four notes is not protected by copyright, two non-contiguous notes cannot be protected.”

Released in 2019 off their third studio album Love Goes, “Dancing with a Stranger” is one of Smith’s top-charting hits, peaking at No. 7 on the Hot 100 chart. Smith and Normani were sued over the song in March by songwriters Jordan Vincent, Christopher Miranda and Rosco Banlaoi, who claimed that the 2019 hit song was “strikingly similar” to their 2015 track.

In the March complaint, Vincent, Miranda and Banlaoi said it was “beyond any real doubt” that the song had been copied. But in Monday’s response, Smith and Normani’s attorneys said it was, in fact, very much in doubt.

“Aside from the complaint’s hyperbole—negated by its attached report—as to supposedly identical music, plaintiff spends much of the complaint speculating as to how the creators of Dancing with a Stranger might have learned of plaintiff’s song,” the pair’s lawyers wrote. “Plaintiff even claims support in that both songs’ music videos include a woman dancing alone even though that has been seen in countless music videos before Plaintiff’s Song.”

The response filing also demanded that the judge dismiss accusations that Smith and the other defendants were also liable for so-called secondary liability, saying such a claim was illogical: “Plaintiff’s allegationthat defendants, the alleged direct infringers, have induced and materially contributed to the infringing conduct of the direct infringersthat is, themselvesis nonsensical.”

Notably, the new case will feature the same attorneys as the “Stairway” case on both sides. Like in the earlier case, lawyers from Davis Wright (including top litigator Peter Anderson) are repping the stars accused of infringing copyrights, while the firm Francis Alexander represents the allegedly-wronged songwriters in bringing their claims.

In a statement to Billboard,  Francis Alexander attorney AJ Fluehr cast doubt on Monday’s response: “The audio and video comparisons in the complaint make it abundantly clear that the defendants have a serious problem. This is a technical motion that will have little effect on the overall case as it moves forward to discovery and trial.”

Read the full filing here: