Rock band The Knack has sued several online music distributors, including Yahoo, Amazon and Apple, for distributing copies of Run DMC’s song “It’s Tricky,” which contains an unauthorized sample of The Knack’s “My Sharona.”
In a 49-page complaint filed last month, The Knack’s front man Doug Fieger and lead guitarist Berton Averre claim that Run DMC illegally copied parts of their 1978 hit “My Sharona” into Run DMC’s 1986 hit “It’s Tricky.” Although the statute of limitations for copyright infringement is three years, Fieger and Averre claim they had never heard Run DMC’s song — one of the most famous rap songs of all time — until August 2005.
Yahoo, Amazon and Apple are being sued for distributing “It’s Tricky” via their Web sites. The plaintiffs are also suing RealNetworks and Napster for distribution. Fieger and Averre are seeking $150,000 for each infringement.
Besides suing technology companies, Fieger and Averre are suing each member of Run DMC (including the estate of the late Jason Mizell), the band’s producers (including Russell Simmons), and several music publishers and labels.
A representative from the plaintiff’s law firm said Fieger and Averre are suing online distributors because they copied and sold the infringing work. Offline retailers, such as Wal-Mart, were not included in the complaint.
“This is a good example of how copyright law is outdated for the Internet,’ said Jason Schultz, staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who said that offline retailers were probably not sued because they don’t make copies of infringing work, whereas online distributors make a new copy every time a song or album is sold. “But distribution has never been addressed clearly online. Apple and Amazon and Yahoo had no idea anything was wrong — if anything was wrong — with what they were selling.”
Schultz said there was no clear reason why Fieger and Averre would wait 20 years to file a lawsuit. The fact that there are more companies to sue now and that those companies operate in an area of copyright law not yet clearly defined, he said, could have been a factor in filing the lawsuit.
On its face, The Knack’s lawsuit looks like it won’t be successful, said Schultz, if only because it was filed 20 years after the fact. But if the suit is judged to have merit, companies like Apple and Yahoo will be in a bind.
“There are no protections for Apple or any of these companies,” he said.
Original copyright for The Knack’s 1978 hit “My Sharona.”
Note: The news of the lawsuit was originally reported in the music press, but there was little to no mention of the technology companies involved — and the tech press didn’t seem to notice the lawsuit — so I thought I’d dig some stuff up.