Friedrich Nietzsche and Kate Moss brought into Kanye West copyright dispute
Why do Friedrich Nietzsche, Kanye West and Kate Moss appear together in an intellectual property blog post title? One is an existentialist philosopher, one a rapper and one a supermodel.
In 2010, Vincent Peters (aka Vince. P) brought a copyright case against Kanye West, arguing that West’s song Stronger infringes Peters’ song of the same name. First, Peters argued that West copied the lyrics of his song, Stronger. The ‘hooks’ from both songs are as follows (with the allegedly ‘copied’ elements in bold):
What don’t kill me make me stronger
The more I blow up the more you wronger
You copied my CD you can feel my hunger
The wait is over couldn’t wait no longer
N-N-N-now th-th-that don’t kill me
Can only make me stronger
I need you to hurry up now
Cause I can’t wait much longer
I know I got to be right now
Cause I can’t
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get much wronger
Peters also argued that both have the title “Stronger”. Both include a reference to Kate Moss (Peters’ song: “Trying to get a model chick like Kate Moss” and West’s song: “You could be my black Kate Moss tonight”). In his defence, Kanye West argued that Peters cannot claim ownership of copyright in “Kate Moss” or in the title. The similarity in the lyrics was not a copy of Peters’ lyrics, it was argued, but rather, use of the 19th century, Nietzsche maxim, “that which does not kill us makes us stronger.”
Earlier this year, a US District Court ordered that Peters’ claim against West be dismissed. The court found that the particular elements of the songs weren’t protected by copyright. Relevantly:
- No one may claim originality as to facts, which include names. The reference to Kate Moss was not a protectable element of the song
- The maxim from Neitzsche “was copied from a common source that enjoyed a robust existence in the public domain” and was therefore not protected by copyright. Neither were the other short phrases and expressions, particularly since they were common, trite, and clichéd language conveying ideas generally expressed.
- Combinations of un-protected elements can only be protected by copyright when they are original in their selection and arrangement and when the combination has been used by the defendant in its entirety in a nearly identical manner.
Additionally, as a whole, the Court held that the songs would not be considered substantially similar.
Peters has now appealed to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeal (Case No 11-1708). Peters has argued that the District Court erred on a number of points, including that combination of the un-protected elements was not protectable, and that the songs were not substantially similar. We’ll let you know what happens with Peters’ appeal.