Hobbs v. John, No. 12 C 3117, 2012 WL 5342321 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 29, 2012).
On October 29, 2012, the Northern District of Illinois dismissed a copyright infringement suit concerning the lyrics of Elton John’s 1985 hit song, “Nikita.” Alleging that the lyrics mirrored his song, “Natasha,” Plaintiff Guy Hobbs filed suit against “Nikita” co-authors Elton John, Bernie Taupin and music publisher, Big Pig Music, Ltd. Hobbs alleges that he sent his “Natasha” song lyrics to Big Pig in 1984, the year before Big Pig released “Nikita.”
Setting aside the issue of timeliness, as Hobbs discovered “Nikita” in 2001, the court dismissed Hobbs’s copyright infringement claim. The court held that the alleged similarities between the lyrics—“the impossible love affair during the Cold War, a postal theme, and references to a woman’s pale eyes”—are not protected by copyright law because they are “rudimentary, commonplace, and standard under the scènes à faire doctrine.” The court noted that Cold War love affairs have been common in artistic works for decades, and that references to a woman’s light eyes are “too common or clichéd to be protectable expression.” Other similarities, like repeating the name of a love interest and short phrases like “never,” were “not sufficiently unique or complex to establish copyright infringement.” Further, the songs differed in content and the judge concluded that “an ordinary reasonable person would not conclude that [the d]efendants unlawfully appropriated Hobbs’ lyrics.”
In addition to dismissing the copyright infringement claim, the court dismissed the plaintiff’s state law remedy claims as preempted by the Copyright Act.