Back in 2011 a Chicago songwriter by the name of Rebecca Francescatti sued Lady Gaga, alleging the pop star’s “Judas” bore substantial similarities to a song she had written called “Juda.” This sort of thing happens all the time, and is normally brushed off as the grasping of an unknown trying to make a name for themselves. But in Francescatti’s case she actually had a pretty decent probable cause. Also named in the suit were Interscope Records, Universal Music Group, DJ White Shadow and Brian Joseph Gayno. Brian had worked with Francescatti on her music back in the late 90s before going on to contribute to Gaga’s Born This Way as a songwriter and performer.
Check out the two tracks below. An additional snippet of “Juda” can be heard here.
While I’m always inclined to take the side of the less powerful in situations like this, I don’t really hear it myself. And I have to admit Francescatti isn’t really doing herself any favors with her overwrought Purity of the Authentic Artist ramblings on her blog. A judge apparently didn’t hear it either, saying over the summer that the similarities weren’t strong enough to amount to plagiarism of copyright theft.
In his conclusion U.S. District Judge Marvin E. Aspen stated, “We conclude as a matter of law that the two songs are not substantially similar. No reasonable trier of fact could find that Defendants copied protected expression in Francescatti’s song. The songs do not ‘share enough unique features to give rise to a breach of the duty not to copy another’s work.’ …. Accordingly, we grant Defendant’s motion for summary judgment.”
Francescatti expressed her disappointment:
Access to a person’s work (in my case, direct from my ex Brian) usually holds a lot of weight in copyright infringement suits, even more so than similarity of songs.
But a new trend is upon us. Judge Aspen, and the rest of the Seventh Circuit court, don’t consider direct access very important anymore in copyright claims.
Their most recent rulings stand as a body against individual creators (me) and in favor of corporate structures that put out music today (i.e. Lady Gaga, Inc.) by ruling that it doesn’t matter if your friend gave it to Lady Gaga: An “ordinary observer” (whatever that means) would have to be able to hear that the songs are the same.
This discounts the ease with which people through digital manipulation can steal and re-use original material well detailed by Mark Helprin in Digital Barbarism.
The entire post is worth reading, if only to see what a truly insufferable self important Artist sounds like. (Maybe that’s where Gaga got the idea for her whole thing too actually?). That said, she makes some important points about being powerless in the face of money and fame. Sounds like something Gaga could write a song about and make a million dollars off of.