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Saturday, February 24, 2024
Courthouse News Service
Saturday, February 24, 2024 | Back issues
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Judge Rules for Rock Band in ‘B.Y.O.B.’ Royalty Case

(CN) - Platinum-selling rock band System of a Down does not owe royalties to a publishing company for its Grammy-winning song, "B.Y.O.B.," a federal judge in Manhattan ruled.

The Armenian-American group has released five albums that have sold 20 million copies worldwide, with "B.Y.O.B" winning the 2005 Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance.

UK-based Maxwood Music claimed a 50 percent interest in the composition, saying it bought the rights from the song's alleged co-writer, Casey Chmielinski.

Maxwood sued lead guitar player Daron Malakian, lead singer Serj Tankian and their companies, Malakian Publishing and Shattered Mirrors Publishing.

Chmielinski, a singer/songwriter professionally known as Casey Chaos, claimed to have co-written "B.Y.O.B.," an Iraq War protest song that appeared on the 2005 album "Mezmerize." The second part of the double album, "Hypnotize," was released six months later, and both albums reached number one on the Billboard 200.

U.S. District Judge Robert W. Sweet said the events surrounding the song's conception were "blurred by time and circumstances," which "included the use of mind-altering substances."

"However, Malakian presented the most credible and consistent account of these issues," he wrote.

Chmielinski met Malakian in 2002 at a music festival in Australia and New Zealand, where System of a Down and Chmielinski's band, Amen, were playing.

After running into each other months later in Los Angeles, Malakian and Chmielinski began hanging out and playing music together. Malakian had been considering a side project at the time and discussed a joint project with Chmielinski. They added a drummer and called themselves Scars on Broadway, creating a number of songs in the process, the ruling states.

One of their sessions produced a song, one minute in length, that Chmielinski claimed became "B.Y.O.B.," System of a Down's only Top 40 single.

But Judge Sweet said the only similarities between the recordings were the opening guitar riff, the bridge section and the first line of the chorus, all of which Malakian said he created.

After his relationship with Chmielinski cooled, Malakian brought the song to System of a Down. He described "B.Y.O.B.," which stands for Bring Your Own Bombs, as depicting "war as a party in the desert and a class structure that sends a disproportionate number of underprivileged youth to fight in our country's wars."

The liner notes for "Mezmerize" credit Malakian with creating the music and Tankian the lyrics. The ruling describes Tankian as a "politically active individual and artist" who allegedly used his own journal poetry to pen the lyrics to "B.Y.O.B."

"Malakian also informed System of a Down's management that he intended to gift Chmielinski a 2 percent writer's royalty interest," Sweet wrote. Despite initially being "very excited" about the gesture, Chmielinski later told the band's manager that he felt he deserved a higher percentage.

"Malakian has since, understandably, revoked this gift," Sweet wrote.

The judge said Chmielinski's story was "inconsistent and uncorroborated," and the songwriter changed his testimony numerous times when new evidence was introduced.

"Maxwood has failed to establish that the parties intended Chmielinski to be a joint author," Sweet wrote.

He dismissed Maxwood's bid for royalties and declared Malakian and Tankian the sole authors of "B.Y.O.B."

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