CHICAGO (CN) – A photojournalist who claims that Elton John’s song “Nikita” is a rip-off of the ballad he wrote for a Ukrainian waitress cannot sue, a federal judge ruled.
Guy Hobbs sued Elton John and his collaborator Bernard Taupin in April 2012, claiming that John swiped the lyrics for the hit song “Nikita” from a song he wrote 29 years ago.
Hobbs said he took his first photography job on a Russian cruise ship in 1982, and became romantically involved with a Ukrainian waitress. The affair inspired him to write a song called “Natasha” about an impossible love between a Western man and Ukrainian woman during the Cold War.
Hobbs allegedly sent his lyrics to several music producers, including Big Pig Music, to help him connect with male solo artists, but nothing ever came of it.
John released “Nikita” in 1985 on the album “Ice on Fire.” The song describes an impossible love between a Western man and East German woman during the Cold War. The single hit No. 3 on the U.K. Singles Chart and No. 7 in the United States.
Hobbs claims he first saw the lyrics to John’s “Nikita” while perusing a song book in 2001 and was stricken by the similarity to his own song.
U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve noted that the two songs share a similar title and theme. Both describe a woman’s pale eyes, reference sending correspondence in the mail, and repeat the phrases, “you’ll never know,” “you will never know,” “to hold you,” and “I need you.”
“Of these listed similarities, there are certain themes or ideas that Hobbs argues are protected under the Copyright Act, including the impossible love affair during the Cold War, a postal theme, and references to a woman’s pale eyes,” St. Eve wrote.
But “these themes are not protected under the Copyright Act because they are rudimentary, commonplace, and standard under the scènes à faire doctrine,” the ruling states. “Moreover, phrases and themes that are common, trite, or clichéd are not protected under copyright laws.”
St. Eve also found that “the phrases, ‘you’ll never know,’ ‘to hold you,’ and ‘I need you’ are commonly used in musical lyrics. Also, short phrases that do not express an ‘appreciable amount of original text’ are not subject to copyright protection.”
“Thus, after filtering out the non-protected elements, no similarities exist between the two songs except for generic themes, words, and phrases, as discussed above,” she wrote. “In other words, the ubiquity of the common sayings sprinkled throughout both ‘Nikita’ and ‘Natasha,’ along with the repeated use of these commons phrases and sayings in other songs, establish that Defendants’ lyrics to ‘Nikita’ do not infringe on Hobbs’ lyrics to ‘Natasha.'”
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