Coldplay Feels the Heat Once Again - Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal
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Coldplay Feels the Heat Once Again

Coldplay Feels the Heat Once Again

Last December, guitar hero Joe Satriani filed a lawsuit against the members of Coldplay and Capitol Records, alleging the band’s song, “Viva La Vida,” contained “substantial, original portions” of his 2004 track “If I Could Fly.”1 (Listen here to refresh your memory.) To the delight of many Coldplay fans, a financial settlement was finally reached between the two parties last September.

Unfortunately, Coldplay is weathering yet another legal dispute. It seems that “either Coldplay is a magnet for litigious songwriters, or [has] a real plagiarism problem.“2 This lawsuit comes from an unfamiliar singer-songwriter: Sammie Lee Smith. Smith recently filed against Coldplay in the Los Angeles Superior Court, alleging that the band stole his material to create hits such as “Yellow,” Clocks,” and “Trouble.”3

But why a lawsuit now, when songs such as ‘Yellow’ and ‘Trouble’ were released as early as the year 2000? According to DigitalMusicNews.com, the fact that Sammie Lee Smith is such an obscure name in the music business and that Smith is suing well after the named songs were released definitely works to Coldplay’s advantage.4 A critical component of Coldplay’s defense is the relative obscurity of the songwriter. The songs are similar, but did Coldplay even know the song or that the songwriter existed?”5

According to the U.S. copyright law, “in the absence of a confession, musicians who accuse others of stealing their work must prove ‘access’ – the alleged plagiarizer must have heard the song – a ‘similarity’ – the songs must share unique musical components.6

Sammie Lee Smith has recorded around 4,000 songs on some 100 tapes since 1976. At this point, it is unknown how Coldplay came into contact with Smith, but the lawsuit demands that the band cease playing “Yellow,” “Clocks,” and “Trouble,” and that Smith receives an “undisclosed but undoubtedly exuberant amount of money.”7

History has shown with artists such as Vanilla Ice that plagiarism can ruin reputations and end careers. Coldplay knows the potential damages of such charges better than most – having been sued by Joe Satriani, Cat Stevens, and an unknown singer-songwriter, all accusing Coldplay of ripping them off in one way or another.

At this point, there are no further details regarding the lawsuit. While the Satriani versus Coldplay allegations were quite obvious, Sammie Lee Smith will have a much harder time braving the cold.
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1 David J. Prince, Coldplay, Satriani Copyright Lawsuit Dismissed, BILLBOARD, Sept. 15, 2009.
2 Paul Resnikoff, Coldplay Weathers Another Copyright Lawsuit…, DIGITAL MUSIC NEWS, Jan. 18, 2010.
3 Id.
4 Id.
5 Id.
6 Adam Conner-Simons, Picking Up What They’re Laying Down. GELF MAGAZINE, July 24 2007.
7 http://www.tmz.com/2010/01/13 (follow “music” hyperlink; then follow “exclusives” hyperlink).

Anna Korzhenevich