Today we're flashing back to 1985 when John Fogerty was sued for infringement of copyright. The catch? He was sued for infringing on himself. Read on for this bizarre tale.
The origin of this case dates back to 1970 when Fogerty wrote a song called "Run Through the Jungle" that was recorded and released by his band Creedence Clearwater Revival. The single was a hit and went gold.
Back in this post, we discussed "the bundle of sticks", aka the rights that come with copyright ownership. We also discussed that as the owner of a copyright, you have the ability to transfer all (or some of) those six "sticks" to others. In this case, even though John Fogerty wrote "Run Through the Jungle", he didn't own the copyright to it as it had been assigned to Saul Zaentz who owned CCR's old label, Fantasy Records.
Fast forward to 1985 when Fogerty wrote a song called "The Old Man Down the Road" for his solo album. The problem was that Zaentz happened to think that "The Old Man Down the Road" was just "Run Through the Jungle" with different lyrics. In other words, he believed John Fogerty had infringed upon a copyright Zaentz owned. Whoa.
It should be noted that there was already bad blood between John Fogerty and Saul Zaentz. Turns out there were a few songs on Fogerty's 1985 solo record that people thought were attacks on Zaentz (see: "Zanz Kant Danz" and "Mr. Greed"), which led Zaentz to sue Fogerty for defamation in a $144 million suit that was settled out of court.
In 1988 the infringement case ended up in a San Francisco court for a trial that lasted two weeks. Fogerty spent a good amount of time on the stand with his guitar explaining how the two songs sounded similar because they were both written in his distinctive "swamp rock" style. So yeah, duh, of course both songs sound similar.
In the end, the jury deliberated for two hours and determined the song didn't meet the legal standard of being "substantially similar." Meaning, there was no copyright infringement.
Fogerty estimated that he had spent $1.09 million in legal fees, $400,000 more than what he had made on the song in the first place and ended up filing a countersuit against Fantasy to recover his legal fees. That suit went all the way to the Supreme Court which ended up siding with Fogerty in 1994.
Fogerty later explained that the reason he had fought so hard was that he thought if Fantasy had won it would have set a dangerous precedent for songwriters. He told Rolling Stone magazine at the time, “What’s at stake is whether a person can continue to use his own style as he grows and goes on through life."
Here are the two songs for your comparison: