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Popstar Bieber sued over 'Sorry'

Posted On: Jun. 6, 2016 12:00 AM CST

He's not Sorry.

Superstar singer Justin Bieber and fellow co-writers of his Billboard Hot 100 hit “Sorry,” as well as the producers, publishers, record labels and distributors of the song, were sued in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee on May 25 for copyright infringement by Casey Dienel — a professional musician and songwriter who performs under the name White Hinterland.

Ms. Dienel claims that “Sorry's” opening vocal riff samples her song “Ring the Bell,” which was the first single from her 2014 album called Baby. Coincidentally (or perhaps not), Ms. Dienel's album shares the name Baby with a hit single from Mr. Bieber's first studio album “My World 2.0” released in 2010.

Ms. Dienel spent four years creating and molding “Ring the Bell” and composed the vocal riff featured on the song in 2012, which “represents unique and valuable intellectual property to her,” according to the lawsuit.

However, the writers and producers of “Sorry” had access to Ms. Dienel's song because “Ring the Bell” had been commercially available for purchase or digital stream through record stores, Amazon.com, iTunes, Spotify, Rhapsody, Deezer and other major music outlets since April 2014 and was extensively reviewed in major media outlets including Rolling Stone magazine, according to the lawsuit.

Soon after the lawsuit was filed, the song's producer and co-defendant Skrillex — whose real name is Sonny Moore — tweeted a 30-second video to show how the track's opening riff was created in the studio, which was retweeted by Mr. Bieber using the hashtag “#WeDontSteal. However, Ms. Dienel argues in the lawsuit that “Ring the Bell” and “Sorry” “are so strikingly similar, a claimed defense of 'independent creation' is precluded as a matter of law.”

The lawsuit was filed in the Nashville, Tennessee court because the Middle District of Tennessee is in the 6th Circuit, which has favorable law for copyright holders whose sound recordings are “sampled,” according to a legal analysis by J. Michael Keyes a Seattle-based partner at Dorsey & Whitney L.L.P. But if the defendants can establish that they independently created the opening hook then that should be sufficient to overcome any inference that it was copied in violation of the Copyright Act, even in the 6th Circuit, he said.

Does this mean that Ms. Dienel will prevail or will Mr. Bieber and friends have to apologize? Never say never.