All Mariah Carey Did Not Want For Christmas was a Lawsuit
As the holiday season approaches, the airwaves begin to fill with the familiar sounds of festive music. Among these seasonal staples is Mariah Carey's iconic "All I Want for Christmas Is You." However, this year, the song is making headlines not for topping charts but for topping a legal complaint filed in the United States District Court for the Central District of California. Santa has come early and delivered a shiny new copyright infringement lawsuit to Mariah Carey.
The plaintiffs, Andy Stone and Troy Powers, allege that their 1989 song, also titled "All I Want for Christmas Is You," shares more than a coincidental resemblance to Carey's 1994 hit. They claim that Carey's version infringes upon their original work by copying the compositional structure, lyrical phrases, and melodic elements. The plaintiffs assert that their song's success and prominence in the country music scene would have made it accessible to Carey and her co-defendant, Walter Afanasieff, prior to the release of their version.
Download the Complaint:
Summary of the Complaint
The plaintiffs claim to have co-authored a song with the same title in 1989, which they allege shares substantial similarities with Mariah Carey's 1994 hit of the same name. They assert ownership of a ½ copyright interest in their song and argue that Carey's version infringes upon their original work by copying the compositional structure, lyrical phrases, and melodic elements. They estimate that about 50% of Carey's song's lyrics and chord progression infringe upon their work.
The complaint also discusses the commercial success of Carey's song, which has become a staple of holiday music and has significantly benefited Carey's career and public image, including attempts to trademark the phrase "Queen of Christmas."
The plaintiffs seek legal redress for the alleged copyright infringement, claiming that the defendants' actions have unjustly enriched them at the plaintiffs' expense. They provide detailed allegations of the similarities between the two works and argue that the defendants undoubtedly had access to the plaintiffs' song prior to writing and releasing their own.
Causes of Action
The specific legal causes of action alleged in the complaint are as follows:
First Claim for Relief (For Direct Copyright Infringement Against All Defendants): The plaintiffs allege that their composition "All I Want for Christmas Is You" contains copyrightable subject matter under the copyright laws of the United States and that they are the owners of the copyright to this composition. They claim that the defendants have engaged in infringing acts, including unlawfully creating, recording, manufacturing, producing, selling, licensing, marketing, and distributing the musical composition and sound recording of "All I Want for Christmas Is You" without permission. The plaintiffs seek statutory damages, actual damages, profits attributable to the infringement, and injunctive relief to prevent further infringement and the destruction of all copies of the infringing work (Pages 15-17).
Second Claim for Relief (For Unjust Enrichment): The plaintiffs assert that the defendants have enjoyed financial benefits, including profits from record sales, digital downloads, royalties, and licensing fees from their unauthorized use of the plaintiffs' unique creative work. They claim that the defendants have wrongfully taken the benefits of the plaintiffs' copyright property rights, depriving the plaintiffs of these benefits to their detriment. The plaintiffs seek damages subject to proof at trial but not less than $20,000,000.00, twenty million dollars (Pages 17-18).
The plaintiffs also demand various forms of relief, including a judicial determination of copyright infringement, temporary and final injunctions to prevent further infringement, impounding of all copies of the infringing work, damages of at least twenty million dollars, statutory damages, attorney's fees and costs, prejudgment, and post-judgment interest, and any other relief the court deems just and proper. They also demand a trial by jury on all issues triable (Pages 18-19).
Legal Proofs in Copyright Infringement Lawsuits
In a copyright infringement lawsuit such as the one involving the song "All I Want for Christmas Is You," the plaintiff must establish several critical elements to prove their case. Here is a summary of what needs to be proven:
Ownership of a Valid Copyright: The plaintiff must demonstrate that they have a valid copyright in the work that is allegedly infringed. This involves showing that the work is original, that it has been fixed in a tangible medium of expression, and that it has been properly registered with the appropriate copyright office, if required.
Copying of the Work: The plaintiff must prove that the defendant actually copied the work. This can be shown through direct evidence of copying or by establishing that the defendant had access to the plaintiff's work and that the two works are "substantially similar." The substantial similarity must be significant enough that an ordinary observer would recognize the copying.
Unauthorized Use: The plaintiff must show that the copying was done without their authorization. Copyright infringement occurs when the defendant engages in one of the exclusive rights held by the copyright owner, such as the right to reproduce, distribute, perform, or create derivative works, without obtaining permission.
Substantial Similarity: The plaintiff needs to demonstrate that substantial parts of their work were copied. The court will look at the protectable elements of the work, such as the melody, lyrics, rhythm, harmony, and sequence, and compare them to the defendant's work. The focus is on the expression of ideas, not the ideas themselves.
Access: The plaintiff must prove that the defendant had access to the copyrighted work. Access can be shown by direct evidence or circumstantially, such as if the plaintiff's work was widely disseminated or if there were any direct links between the plaintiff's and the defendant's work.
Potential Damages: If infringement is proven, the plaintiff must also articulate the damages they have suffered due to the infringement. This can include actual damages, such as lost profits, or statutory damages, which are set amounts per work infringed.
Defendant’s Defenses: Finally, the plaintiff must be prepared to counter any defenses the defendant might raise. Common defenses include fair use, independent creation, de minimis use (use too trivial to consider), or that the alleged infringement is not protectable because it is a fact, idea, system, or merged with an idea.
In the case of Andy Stone and Troy Powers versus Mariah Carey and co-defendants, the plaintiffs will need to establish these elements to succeed in their claim. They will need to show that their version of "All I Want for Christmas Is You" is an original work with a valid copyright, that Carey’s version is substantially similar to theirs, that any similarities were the result of copying, and that this copying was unauthorized. They will also need to demonstrate that the defendants had access to their song and that they have suffered damages as a result of the alleged infringement.
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As with any legal issue, it is important that you obtain competent legal counsel before making any decisions about how to respond to a subpoena or whether to challenge one - even if you believe that compliance is not required. Because each situation is different, it may be impossible for this article to address all issues raised by every situation encountered in responding to a subpoena. The information below can give you guidance regarding some common issues related to subpoenas, but you should consult with an attorney before taking any actions (or refraining from acts) based on these suggestions. Separately, this post will focus on New Jersey law. If you receive a subpoena in a state other than New Jersey, you should immediately seek the advice of an attorney in your state, as certain rules differ in other states.