Right Said Fred vs Taylor Swift
2017 • Settled • England and Wales
Claimant Work: I'm Too Sexy
Defendant Work: Look What You Made Me Do
Rolling Stone Magazine reported in August 2017 that Right Said Fred had settled terms with Taylor Swift for using elements of their song I'm Too Sexy in her new song Look What You Made Me Do.
The report featured an interview with Right Said Fred singer Fred Fairbrass in which he explained they received a call offering a share in the new Swift song for what was described as 'interpolating' I'm Too Sexy into Look What You Made Me Do.
The Wikipedia commentary on the Swift song states that "it interpolates the melody of . . . I'm Too Sexy", although in fact as the elements of similarity are spoken in both songs there is no melody, and it is simply the use of the same rhythmic pattern over a six word repeated phrase.
The Fairbrass interview mentions that the publishers and lawyers handled the negotiation but that they were "comfortable" with the arrangement, which saw a share of publishing royalties from the Swift song shared with the writers and publisher of I'm Too Sexy, although he wouldn't be drawn on the exact terms of the deal.
After the release of Look What You Made Me Do Right Said Fred thanked Swift via Twitter, saying "what a marvellous reinvention".
Case for infringement
An argument for copyright infringement would focus on the spoken lyric 'hook' of the two songs:
I'm too sexy for my shirt, too sexy for my shirt
Oh, look what you made me do, look what you made me do
Both feature a phrase of seven syllables which is repeated omitting the only the first syllable.
Both feature an identical musical rhythm - a long first and last syllable (in musical terms a dotted crotchet or quarter note, shown above in italics) followed by five quaver or eighth notes.
Fred Fairbrass, referenced the shared lyrical theme of cynicism, though of course this in itself can not constitute infringement.
Case against infringement
Other than the similarities in the spoken 'hook' of each song, there is nothing else, melodically or lyrically to link the two works.
Indeed, it could be argued that the rhythmic similarity between the two is common in music. Many earlier works share the same rhythm, among which perhaps the most well-known is La Vie En Rose, recorded originally by French singer Edith Piaf in the late 1940s.
Bars 1, 2, 3 and 4 below have identical rhythms. Bars 3, 4, 7 and 8 are quite different.
Within both songs the first four bars are repeated as bars 5-8.
I'm Too Sexy
(Manzoli/Fairbrass/Fairbrass) © Spirit Music Publishing Ltd. Recording by Right Said Fred ℗ 1991, Tug Records.
Look What You Made Me Do
(Antonoff/Swift/Manzoli/Fairbrass/Fairbrass) © Sony/ATV Music Publishing (UK) Ltd/Spirit Music Publishing Ltd. Recording by Taylor Swift ℗ 2017, Big Machine Records.
The parties settled prior to release, with the writers and publishers of I'm Too Sexy receiving a share of publishing royalties from Taylor Swift's song. Do you think the parties should have settled? Has Look What You Made Me Do infringed?
It seems likely that the writers or publishers of Look What You Made Me Do felt they had crossed a line in their use of the repeated spoken hook, no doubt aware of the recent settlements between Sam Smith and Tom Petty and the earlier ruling against Blurred Lines, and felt it easier to settle terms before release.
Whether or not they took independent advice before settling isn't known, though a strong argument against infringement could certainly be made, and this may be another victim of the 'Blurred Lines Effect' - a song that wouldn't have been considered infringing prior to the Blurred Lines ruling, but now has rights owners running scared, eager to settle in order to avoid the risk of a heavy fine further down the line.