CHICAGO (CN) – A freelance photographer claims in court that Elton John swiped the lyrics for his hit song “Nikita” from a song the photographer wrote 29 years ago.
Guy Hobbs sued Elton John, Bernard John Taupin and Big Pig Music in Cook County Court.
John has collaborated with Taupin since 1967 on more than 30 albums, with Taupin writing lyrics.
Hobbs is an Australian freelance photojournalist who lives in Cape Town, South Africa.
According to his complaint: “Hobbs took his first job as a photographer on a Russian cruise ship, the Taras Shevchenko, at the beginning 1982. While on board the Russian cruise ship, Hobbs became romantically involved with one of the Russian waitresses. Their relationship occurred during the height of the Cold war. The Russian crew could not leave the cruise ship, but Hobbs had the freedom to travel anywhere he wanted.
“Before leaving the Taras Shevchenko in the Spring of 1982, Hobbs was inspired by his experiences with the Russian waitress to write a song in his cabin called ‘Natasha,’ which consists of wholly original material. The song centers around an impossible love affair between a Western man and a Russian woman during the Cold War. ‘Natasha’ was, and is, a copyrightable matter under the laws of the United States.”
Hobbs says he registered the copyright of “Natasha” in the United Kingdom in 1983. “In addition, he attempted to find someone to compose music to accompany his lyrics, but could never connect with the right person,” the complaint states.
In 1984, “Hobbs also forwarded the lyrics to ‘Natasha’ to several music publishers of male solo artists, asking them to consider publishing his lyrics and assist him to connect with singer/songwriter collaborators. Big Pig was one of the music publishing companies to which Hobbs sent his lyrics. At that time, he believed that Big Pig was an independent publishing company. He was unaware that Big Pig’s sole purpose was to publish only the songs written and composed by John and Taupin,” the complaint states.
But in 2001, he says, “Hobbs came across the written lyrics of ‘Nikita’ for the first time in a song book. ‘Nikita’ involves an impossible love between a Western man and an East German woman during the Cold War. When Hobbs read the lyrics, he was shocked by the many similarities between the lyrics of ‘Nikita’ and ‘Natasha.'”
John released “Nikita” in 1985 on the album “Ice on Fire.” The single hit No. 3 on the U.K. Singles Chart and No. 7 in the United States.
Hobbs claims that “both John and Taupin were aware of, participated in, and contributed to the exploitation of the lyrics of ‘Natasha’ in the United States of America, including in this District, through sales of albums, CDs, digital downloads, radio and television airplay, and otherwise.
“John and Taupin have earned millions of dollars in revenue through their exploitation of ‘Natasha’ and continue currently to actively exploit the lyrics worldwide, including in this District, through sales of CDs, radio and television airplay, and otherwise.
“On information and belief, John’s and Taupin’s musical composition and sound recording of ‘Nikita’ was a top ten hit in most countries worldwide. ‘Nikita’ is John’s third most popular solo hit of his entire career, according to the average rankings of the major global charts.”
A spokesman for Elton John told the New York Post: “Sir Elton John and Mr. Bernie Taupin were surprised and disappointed to learn of the lawsuit for copyright infringement brought against them by Guy Hobbs concerning the lyrics of their ’80s hit ‘Nikita.’ Sir Elton and Mr. Taupin do not know the plaintiff, nor did they make use of any song lyrics he claims to have written when they wrote ‘Nikita.’ In short, the suit is completely meritless. The fact that Hobbs has chosen to wait more than 26 years after the release of ‘Nikita’ to bring this lawsuit calls his motives into question. Sir Elton John and Mr. Taupin fully expect to prevail against this baseless claim.”
Hobbs seeks damages for copyright infringement, and all the profits from “Nikita.”
He is represented by Daniel Voelker.