A US judge has ruled Nickelback should face a lawsuit alleging copyright infringement in relation to their 2005 track ‘Rockstar’.
The infringement lawsuit was initially filed in a US District Court in Texas by Kirk Johnston, a former member of the band Snowblind Revival. The suit lists the members of Nickelback, their former label Roadrunner, publisher Warner Chappell and touring promoter Live Nation as defendants. The defendants filed to dismiss the lawsuit in October 2020.
In his suit, Johnston claims Snowblind Revival created a master recording of their track ‘Rock Star’ in 2001. They then sent copies of the recordings to A&R representatives from various labels, including Universal Music Group (which owns Roadrunner) and Warner Music Group (which owns Warner Chappell). Johnston also claims they had an in-person meeting with staff from Universal, where they provided copies.
Johnston alleges “a substantial amount of the music” from his composition has been copied for Nickelback’s ‘Rockstar’, which came out four years later on their album ‘All The Right Reasons’, including “tempo, song form, melodic structure, harmonic structures and lyrical themes”. He also claims Nickelback could have had access to the Snowblind Revival track when the reps at Universal and Warner received master recording copies.
In response, the defendants have claimed that “fundamentally, the works at issue are not substantially similar to an ordinary observer”. Listen to the two tracks below:
In her recommendation published last Wednesday (August 11), Magistrate Judge Susan Hightower said that Johnston’s allegations rise “above the speculative level, which is all that is required at the pleading stage” and that he has “sufficiently pled substantial similarity to” Nickelback’s song ‘Rockstar’.
After listening to the two songs, Hightower found that “it is possible for a reasonable juror to determine that the works share protectable elements”, though it is yet to be determined whether the plaintiff can prove whether there are “striking” similarities between the two tracks, as necessary.
Though Hightower recommended that Nickelback’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit be denied, she also recommended Live Nation be dismissed as a defendant, given the plaintiff’s complaint “lacks any factual allegations that would allow a reasonable inference that Live Nation was aware of and materially contributed to infringing activity”.