TAMPA, Fla. (CN) – Music producer Dr. Luke can sue country duo David and Homer Bellamy for defamation after the brothers accused him of ripping off their biggest hit for one of Britney Spears’ latest chart-toppers, “Hold It Against Me,” a Florida judge ruled.
Lukasz Gottwald aka Dr. Luke co-wrote and produced “Hold It Against Me,” which was released as a single in January and included in Britney Spears’ “Femme Fatale” album. The Bellamy Brothers, who have more than 50 albums to date, claimed that Gottwald and Spears had lifted lyrics from their 1979 ballad “If I Said You Had a Beautiful Body Would You Hold It Against Me?”
Gottwald and his music industry friends filed a federal lawsuit, claiming that the country duo had launched an online smear campaign accusing him of plagiarism. The Bellamys asserted that “Hold It Against Me” infringed on their copyrighted song, and that it is not the producer’s first rip-off. The website mentioned two other songs that Gottwald co-wrote and produced for Avril Lavigne and Katy Perry, which triggered copyright lawsuits against the producer.
The brothers implied that Gottwald engaged in a pattern of plagiarism and never mentioned that he had been exonerated from the copyright-infringement claims, according to the complaint. In addition to damages for defamation, Gottwald sought a court order declaring his song had nothing to do with the Bellamy Brothers’ track, which took the duo to No. 1 on the country music charts.
The Bellamy Brothers asked the court to dismiss the complaint, arguing there was no real or immediate threat of a copyright-infringement lawsuit being filed against Gottwald and his co-authors.
U.S. District Judge Susan Bucklew rejected the argument. Although the Bellamy Brothers had not sued Gottwald and his co-authors for plagiarism, “the statements on defendants’ website gave [the plaintiffs] a reasonable apprehension that defendants were going to file suit against them,” Bucklew wrote.
According to their website, the Bellamy Brothers had consulted a copyright attorney and had asked a renowned musicologist to compare the plaintiffs’ and defendants’ songs, the order states.
The court also rejected the Bellamys’ contention that the statements on their website were truthful and did not constitute defamation. “The statements on the website strongly imply that there is evidence of a pattern of copyright infringement by Gottwald, because the website omits the facts that the plaintiffs in those cases publically stated that he did not infringe their songs,” Bucklew wrote.
The court ruled that the Bellamys’ statements, which implied that the plaintiffs had committed an illegal act, intentionally omitted publically available facts and could not qualify as “pure opinion,” thus supporting a defamation claim.