Robbie Williams to pay damages over stolen lyric

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The Independent Culture

Robbie Williams copied substantially from a Woody Guthrie lyric for a song on his best-selling album I've Been Expecting You, a judge at the High Court ruled yesterday.

Robbie Williams copied substantially from a Woody Guthrie lyric for a song on his best-selling album I've Been Expecting You, a judge at the High Court ruled yesterday.

Williams and his record and publishing companies now face a trial to determine the amount of royalties or damages they must pay to the owners of the original copyright. It is expected to be a considerable sum.

The court found that the song, "Jesus in a Camper Van," which Williams co-wrote with Guy Chambers, was a breach of copyright of the late Guthrie's song "I Am The Way" and also of an adaptation of the same song which was created by Loudon Wainwright III.

Ludlow Music, based in New York, owns the copyright to the original song, written in 1961, and also of what the judge described as a parody of the track, written by Wainwright in 1973.

Deputy Judge Nicholas Strauss said that in late 1997 or early 1998, Williams and Chambers wrote their song and EMI Music Publishing and BMG Music Publishing acquired the copyright.

The original track included the line: "Every good man gets a little hard luck sometimes."

The Wainwright version ran: "Every Son of God gets a little hard luck sometimes, especially when he goes round saying he is the way."

Williams's song contained the lines: "I suppose even the Son of God gets it hard sometimes especially when he goes round saying I am the way."

Ludlow Music had agreed to the Williams song but a dispute arose over its demand for a half share in the copyright, the court was told. EMI said that was excessive and offered 25 per cent. When the album came out the sleeve stated the lyrics had been reproduced "by kind permission of Ludlow".

Mr Strauss said Williams, Chambers, EMI and BMG accepted they had used elements of the Wainwright version but denied that it could be described as a "substantial part".

"In my view, the extent of the copying is substantial, although not by much," Mr Strauss said.

One of the four verses of "Jesus in a Camper Van" had been copied, he said, and the song took the central idea of the Wainwright version that the Son of God attracted bad luck by telling everyone "I am the Way."

"I think this is of sufficient substance to amount to an infringement of copyright," he said.

"The claimants are entitled to substantial damages, possibly including exemplary damages, and to have the court determine the amount rather than be forced to accept the defendants' assessment, however generous."

* Robbie Williams has been shortlisted for five prizes in this year's MTV Europe Music Awards.

The former Take That star has the most nominations, including best pop act, best male and best UK and Ireland act. His single, "Rock DJ," has also been nominated for the best song and video awards.

Williams will perform at the seventh annual award ceremony in Stockholm on 16 November, which goes out to a potential television audience of more than 1 billion.

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