Hobbs v. John

Summarized by:

  • Court: Intellectual Property Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Copyright
  • Date Filed: 10-29-2012
  • Case #: 12-C3117
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: St. Eve
  • Full Text Opinion

Concepts and feelings are not copyrightable when they belong to the general scène à faire of the genre.

Opinion (St. Eve.): Hobbs, a photo journalist, had an ‘impossible’ love affair with Natasha, a Ukrainian cruise ship employee during the cold war. The short relationship came to a tragic end when the two realized they were from two different worlds, and Natasha sailed away to continue working on the cruise ship. Hobbs chronicled the experience into lyrical form with a song called “Natasha,” which he registered for a copyright. Hobbs then sent the lyrics to “Natasha” to various publishers in 1984 with the intent to get a singer/musician who could use them to make both him and Natasha rich and famous. In 2001, Hobbs found a song that reminded him of his previous work, called “Nikita.” “Nikita” was created by Elton John and Bernie Taupin, who were affiliated with Big Pig publishing, one of the publishers Hobbs had sent his lyrics two decades prior. Hobbs proceeded to sue Elton John for copyright infringement on the song, and John motioned for dismissal. In regards to a song about an impossible love affair between East and West during the cold war, and descriptions of “pale eyes,” the Court stated that ideas were not copyrightable, but rather the expression of the idea. Additionally, the court says that these similarities were trite, or fell under the scénes á faire doctrine. Hobbs conceded that the pieces individually were not copyright protected, but asked the Court to compare the ‘total concept and feel’ instead. The Court refused to do this because the Copyright Act said specifically not to do this, and then continued illustrated the stark differences between the two songs’ overall stories. John’s motion to dismiss was GRANTED.

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