CHICAGO (CN) – Hip-hop artist Kanye West did not steal his international hit song “Stronger” from a lesser-known rapper, the 7th Circuit ruled.
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In a 2010 federal complaint, Chicago-area artist Vincent Peters, or Vince P, claimed that West’s song “Stronger” was a rip-off of his song by the same name.
Peters claimed to have played “Stronger” for a business manager named John Monopoly in 2006, and that Monopoly agreed to be Peters’ executive producer if he could secure funding from a record label.
When funding never materialized, the deal fell through.
Less than a year later, West released “Stronger,” and the song rose to the top of the charts, selling more than 3 million copies and earning a Grammy for Best Rap Solo Performance.
The West album on which “Stronger” appears, “Graduation,” credits Monopoly as a manager.
Peters’ complaint highlighted the suspicious timing of the release, coupled with similarities in the choruses of the two songs.
In addition to their titles, U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall found that the songs also have similar rhyme schemes and contain references to British model Kate Moss.
They also hearken to Friedrich Nietzsche’s maxim, “what does not kill me, makes me stronger.”
But even assuming West had access to Peters’ recording, the songs were too different to support a copyright-infringement claim, Kendall found.
The 7th Circuit affirmed Monday.
“Vince P has adequately pleaded that West had an opportunity to copy his song, but that does not help him prove similarity,” Judge Diane Wood wrote for a three-member panel. “Vince P must show that West actually copied his song by pointing to similarities between the two works. We are not persuaded that the similarities alleged by Vince P rise to the level of copyright infringement.”
“Although the fact that both songs quote from a 19th century German philosopher might, at first blush, seem to be an unusual coincidence, West correctly notes that the aphorism has been repeatedly invoked in song lyrics over the past century,” she added.
In fact, pop singer Kelly Clarkson also made the Billboard Hot 100 chart with her song, “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You),” the decision states.
Because copyright law protects actual expression, not methods of expression, Peters’ claim that West copied his rhyme scheme – “stronger, longer, wronger” – must also fail, the panel found.
Fleeting references in the verses of both songs to Kate Moss also did not strike the court as suspicious.
“Analogizing to models as a shorthand for beauty is, for better or for worse, commonplace in our society,” Wood wrote. “The particular selection of Kate Moss, who is very famous in her own right, adds little to the creative choice.”
“These songs are separated by much more than ‘small cosmetic differences,’ … rather, they share only small cosmetic similarities,” she added.
Coincidentally, the chorus of Peters’ song references copyright infringement: “You copied my CD you can feel my hunger; The wait is over couldn’t wait no longer.”
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