Robbie Williams has lost his battle at LONDON HIGH COURT today (October 2) as NEW YORK-based LUDLOW MUSIC emerged victors in a copyright battle over a track on his chart-topping album ‘I’VE BEEN EXPECTING YOU’.
Ludlow claimed that the song ‘Jesus In A Camper Van’, co-written with Guy Chambers, who was also sued, breached its copyright in US folk singer Woody Guthrie‘s 1961 song ‘I Am The Way’ and a 1973 adaptation of the Guthrie classic by 53-year-old US country singer Loudon Wainwright III.
Today at the High Court, Deputy Judge Nicholas Strauss QC agreed, and ruled that Ludlow is entitled to “substantial” and possibly even exemplary damages from Williams, Chambers, EMI Music Publishing LTD and BMG Music Publishing Ltd. However, the amount Ludlow will receive was not set by the judge today, and will be set later, after an assessment. There is no indication of what that figure could be.
Ludlow owns the copyright of the original Woody Guthrie number ‘I Am The Way’, and with their permission, Loudon Wainwright composed what the judge today called a “parody” of the original, called ‘I Am The Way (New York Town)’, assigning his copyright to Ludlow.
The judge said that in late 1997 or 1998, Williams and Chambers co-wrote a composition, ‘Jesus In A Camper Van’, and EMI and BMG acquired copyright in this.
He said that the Guthrie original contained the line, “Every good man gets a little hard luck sometimes”. Loudon Wainwright’s song carried the line, “Every son of God gets a little hard luck sometimes/Especially when he goes round saying he is the way”. The Williams and Chambers song contained the lines, “I suppose even the Son of God gets it hard sometimes/Especially when he goes around saying I am the way”.
Ludlow Music had agreed to consent to the Williams and Chambers song, but a dispute had arisen over their demand for a half-share in the copyright. They were not satisfied with an offer of 25%. But the judge said that despite this, the ultimate album stated that the lyrics had been reproduced “by kind permission” of Ludlow.
He said Williams, Chambers, EMI and BMG accepted they used elements of ‘I Am The Way (New York)’, but denied they had used what could, in the eyes of the law, be regarded as “a substantial part”.
However, the judge said: “In my view, the extent of the copying is substantial, although not by much.” He said that quantitatively, one out of four verses had been copied. He continued: “‘Jesus In A Camper Van’ takes the central idea from ‘I Am The Way (New York Town)’, namely that the Son of God attracts bad luck by going round saying, ‘I am the way’, and embodies it in virtually identical words. I think that this is sufficient substance to amount to an infringement of copyright.”
In those circumstances, he said, he considered Ludlow was entitled to damages or an account of what they now considered they were owed by way of profits. This will be decided at a later stage.