What The Romantics Don't Like About 'Guitar Hero' Version of Hit Song

« Producer's Involvement with Hockey Club Gets Whistled | Main | Video Game Antagonist Up on Ethics Charges »

What The Romantics Don't Like About 'Guitar Hero' Version of Hit Song

Wed Nov 28, 2007 @ 12:05AM PST

Posted by Matthew Heller

Romantics Can a band that licenses a song be sued for making a cover version sound too much like the original? That's the core issued raised in an unusual publicity rights suit filed in Detroit by '80s rockers the Romantics over the alleged misuse of their hit "What I Like About You."

The song is included on "Guitar Hero Encore, Rocks the 80s," one of a series of interactive (and hugely popular) video games that tests the ability of the user to press buttons on a simulated guitar in time with the buttons that appear on the video monitor. "Guitar Hero" publisher Activision licenses rights to songs and then has WaveGroup Sound, a collective of musicians, record cover versions of them.

But according to the Romantics' complaint, the cover of "What I Like About You" is so slavishly faithful to the original that it amounts to "intentional misappropriation of Plaintiffs' identity and persona and imitation of their distinctive sound." In a motion for a preliminary injunction, the band says the well-known 9th Circuit cases involving singers Tom Waits and Bette Midler have clearly established that sound-alike recordings "cannot be used for commercial gain."

The case could be one of first impression in the 6th Circuit. Intellectual property experts suggest the issue may be preemption -- if the sound-alike recording is OK under Federal copyright law, it could preempt any state-law publicity claims.

Says copyright expert, Google senior copyright counsel and former professor William Patry on his copyright blog:

I think there is an excellent preemption argument based on section 114 [of the Copyright Act]: it is true that section doesn't create an express right to make sound alikes -- it instead says the copyright owners can't stop sound alikes. But the federal policy of permitting sound alikes is the same regardless of how the section is phrased.

In the Waits and Midler cases, moreover, the defendants were accused of making sound-alike recordings for use in TV commercials rather than in cover versions.

TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference What The Romantics Don't Like About 'Guitar Hero' Version of Hit Song:

The Hollywood Reporter
The Hollywood Reporter, Esq. blog focuses on how the entertainment and media industries are impacted and influenced by the law. It is edited by Matthew Belloni with contributions from veteran legal reporter Eriq Gardner and others. Before joining The Hollywood Reporter, Belloni was a lawyer at an entertainment litigation firm in Los Angeles. He writes a column for THR devoted to entertainment law. Gardner is a New York-based writer and legal journalist. Send tips or comments to Matthew.Belloni@thr.com

The Hollywood Reporter
Contact: Patrice Atiee at 323.525.2014 or patrice.atiee@thr.com

The Hollywood Reporter is Your Complete Film Resource

The columnists and bloggers who write for The Hollywood Reporter have their collective finger on the pulse of the boxoffice. Martin Grove and the other THR columnists deliver their thoughts on the film industry in an uncompromised style. Subscribe to THR today and get the latest views from these film experts and get the latest movie reviews as well.