Assessing whether two songs titled “Caught Up” possessed enough similarities to survive a motion to dismiss, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that they were not in that the songs were lyrically and musically distinct. Pyatt v. Raymond et al., Case No. 11-2507 (2d Cir., Feb. 6, 2012 ) (Wesley, J.; Hall, J.; Carney, J.).
Singer/songwriter Wadena Pyatt and her publishing company sued numerous defendants in the music industry, including well-known artists Usher and Alicia Keys. The plaintiffs claimed that Usher’s song “Caught Up” was copied from plaintiffs’ song of the same name. The plaintiffs alleged copyright infringement of their song lyrics and the sound recording.
The defendants moved to dismiss the complaint under Rule 12(b)(6). Concerning alleged infringement of the song lyrics, the district court found that no substantial similarity existed between any of the protectable elements of the plaintiffs’ lyrics and defendants’ lyrics. None of the lyrics were identical. The only similarity between the lyrics was that they shared the theme of relationships between men and women. Such themes are an idea, which is not protectable. Concerning alleged infringement of the sound recording, the court found the songs “entirely dissimilar” in style, beat and melody. Examining the “total concept and feel” of the two songs, the court held that no average lay observer would recognize the defendants’ song from being appropriated from the plaintiffs’ song. The court dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims against all Defendants. Plaintiff appealed.
The 2d Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the plaintiffs’ claims. The court noted that because the parties’ songs “have little in common beyond the title and the phrase ‘Caught Up,’” the district court correctly concluded that the plaintiffs’ claims failed to muster under the ordinary observer test.