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Classic Copyright Cases – Ghostbusters

November 30, 2020, By

So here I am, once again, confined to my house for another lockdown. Although, what better an opportunity to tell you about another Classic Copyright Case?

This month we have Ray Parker Jr’s unequivocally classic 1984 song Ghostbusters up against Huey Lewis and the News’ I Want a New Drug (for those of you who are not familiar with Huey Lewis, just watch American Psycho).

Back in the 1980s, the producers of Ghostbusters knew they had pure gold in their hands – but what is a great film without a great soundtrack? Clearly, they were aware of this, so they approached Lindsey Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac fame to hit them up with a theme tune. However, Buckingham declined, citing his own personal reason of not wanting to be typecast as the musician who does soundtracks.

Next, they approached Huey Lewis and the News who were on fire at the time after the release of their 1983 album Sports. However, unfortunately for the producers of Ghostbusters the band already had their hands full with the soundtrack for another 80’s belter, Back to the Future.

The producers then turned their heads to Ray Parker Jr and, as he says, gave him a three-day deadline to produce a theme tune for Ghostbusters. No biggie. Nevertheless, Ray Parker Jr delivered against the odds and the producers loved what he had come up with (not to mention the rest of the world to follow). The song soared to unspeakable heights and became an enduring mainstay of 1980s pop culture and music.

However, when Huey Lewis and the News caught wind of the song, they were not happy. Have a listen to I Want a New Drug and compare it to the Ghostbusters theme song – pretty similar wouldn’t you say? This, coupled with the fact that the song was in the top 10 of the charts at the time and indeed the producers had even contacted Huey Lewis first certainly raised some eyebrows.

Huey Lewis sued Ray Parker Jr and Columbia Pictures for copyright infringement. Columbia settled out of court with Huey Lewis signing a confidentiality agreement in exchange for an undisclosed, although presumably mammoth, sum of money. This meant that the parties were not allowed to talk about the settlement.

Yonks later, VH1 covered Huey Lewis and the News in a 2001 Behind the Music special. Most likely forgetting that there was still a legally binding confidentiality agreement in place, Huey Lewis discussed the settlement in the documentary. Oops. Ray Parker Jr then had his own turn and sued Huey Lewis for breaching the confidentiality agreement.

Even later, Ray Parker Jr ended up suing the label and publishers but I won’t even go into that – it just goes to show that, when large sums of money are involved in the music industry, lawsuits are rife.

As always, our specialist solicitors and music lovers here at Briffa are always on hand to help with all things music, be it contracts, claims or even just a free chat about what’s what. Please do not hesitate to contact us at [email protected] or on 020 7288 6003 for a free consultation.

Written by Alex Fewtrell, Solicitor

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