US Judge Rules Nickelback Should Face Lawsuit Alleging Copyright Infringement

A United States judge has ruled that Nickelback should face a lawsuit that alleges one of the band's biggest songs contains copyright infringement. NME reports that Kirk Johnston, a former member of a band called Snowblind Revival, filed a lawsuit against the band, in US District Court in Texas. The band attempted to have the case thrown out, filing a dismissal request back in October 2020.

The suit alleges that Nickelback's 2005 song "Rockstar" contains "a substantial amount of the music" from a song Johnston wrote for his band, titled "Rock Star." He states that the band made a master recording of their song and sent it around to different labels, including Universal Music Group — which owns Roadrunner Records, the band's label at the time — and Warner Music Group, which owns publisher Warner Chappell. Johnston also claims to have had an in-person meeting with a Universal employee when his band provided the demo. Notably, Roadrunner, Warner Chappell, and touring promoter Live Nation are all listed as defendants in the suit as well.

Four years after Snowblind Revival sent around their demo, Nickelback released their fifth studio album, All The Right Reasons, which featured "Rockstar." Johnston alleges that the "tempo, song form, melodic structure, harmonic structures and lyrical themes" from Nickelback's song are all similar to the one he wrote. Johnston claims he believes Nickelback had access to his band's song due to Snowblind Revival having given it to reps from Universal and Warner.

In response to the lawsuit, the defendants have stated that "fundamentally, the works at issue are not substantially similar to an ordinary observer." In her recommendation, Magistrate Judge Susan Hightower said that she believes Johnston's allegations stretch "above the speculative level, which is all that is required at the pleading stage." She also feels that Johnston has "sufficiently pled substantial similarity to" Nickelback's song "Rockstar."

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Hightower listened to the two songs and found that "it is possible for a reasonable juror to determine that the works share protectable elements." However, it has not yet been determined if Johnston can prove, to a necessary degree, whether there are "striking" similarities between his song and Nickelback's. While Hightower may have recommended that Nickelback's motion to dismiss Johnston's lawsuit be denied, she also recommended that Live Nation be dismissed as one of the defendants, given that Johnston's complaint "lacks any factual allegations that would allow a reasonable inference that Live Nation was aware of and materially contributed to infringing activity."