Musicians Usher, Justin Bieber and song co-producers have been sued for $10 million for allegedly copying their hit song, "Somebody to Love."
Devin Copeland, who performs under the name "De Rico", is a writer and singer in Chesapeake, Va. He and a collaborator, Mareio Overton, of Portsmouth, Va., clam they composed and produced an original music composition titled, "Somebody to Love" in 2008. In March 2008, Copeland claims he recorded the song on his album "My Story II" and was issued a copyright registration number by the U.S. Copyright Office on Oct. 2, 2008.
That year, Justin Bieber, then 13, was discovered by music manager Scooter Braun through YouTube videos. Braun formed a partnership with Usher, Raymond Braun Media Group, and the performer agreed to mentor Bieber, who was signed as the company's first performer.
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Duncan Byers, attorney for the plaintiffs, was not available for comment.
Copeland and Overton could not be reached for comment.
Publicists for Usher and Bieber did not respond to requests for comment.
They are suing for at least $10 million in for copyright infringement, contributory infringement, and vicarious infringement.
In 2009, Copeland met musical talent scouts who in turn provided copies of their music to recording companies, according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on May 2.
Copeland's suit claims the scouts also provided a copy to Usher Raymond IV, known as Usher.
On Jan. 5, 2009, Copeland participated in a telephone conference with Jonetta Patton, Usher's mother and "on-again, off-again manager." She told him she and her son listened to the music on his album, including "Somebody to Love" and were interested in having Copeland re-record the album and tour with Usher that summer, according to the suit.
But Copeland claims he never heard anything further from Patton or any other representative of Usher.
In 2010, Bieber released his first album, "My World 2.0," which debuted at number one on the U.S. Billboard 100 chart. The Bieber version "Somebody to Love", with Usher signing backup vocals, was released as the album's second single in April 2010, peaking at number 15 on the U.S. Billboard charts and later certified platinum.
On June 25, 2010, Usher released his version of "Somebody to love" as a remix, singing the lead vocals with Bieber performing the backup vocals.
In late summer of 2010, Overton heard Bieber's version of the song on the radio.
"He immediately contacted Copeland and informed him of the song and stated that it was clearly copied from the Copeland/Overton version of "Somebody to Love."
The suit claims 17 musical similarities to Copeland's version, including the same title, a scalar 7-chord to start the chorus, the same hook in the chorus, "I...need somebody to love," and the same repeating underlying "Keystone" beat pattern.
Robert Kenney, a partner with Birch, Stewart, Kolasch & Birch who is not involved in this suit, said if the allegations in the complaint are true, the details seem to meet two tests for a successful copyright infringement case. First, the plaintiffs must prove the alleged infringer had access to the original work. Second, there must be substantial similarity between the two works.
"It almost seems like a blatant copy. I'm not suggesting it is, but if this turns out to be true, it's almost pretty brazen," said Kenney, who specializes in intellectual property, including copyright law, based in Falls Church, Va.
Kenney said the listing of the elements in the complaint were "pretty specific" and "fact-heavy," whereas both tests are difficult to meet in other copyright cases.
"The greater the number the elements of similarity, the easier it will be to show infringement," he said.
The suit claims that a statistical analysis of a 52-song sample of the Billboard "Hot 100" between 2009 to 2011 show "there is essentially a zero probability for the number of points of congruence between two versions" of the song, "absent copying."