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Classic Copyright Cases – Rod Stewart v Jorge Ben Jor

December 21, 2020, By

As London descends into Tier 4, I’m back to tell you about a Classic Copyright Case before the days of face masks, takeaway pints and Zoom calls.

This time, we have UK legend Rod Stewart up against the incredibly talented – and one of my personal favourites – Jorge Ben Jor. For those of you who are not familiar with him, he is an immensely popular musician from Rio De Janeiro who blended samba, bossa nova, funk and rock to create a distinct and classically Brazilian style of music.

All the way back in 1972, Jorge Ben released Taj Mahal on his popular album, Ben. When he moved towards a different sound for Africa Brasil in 1976, he reinvented Taj Mahal and released it on the new album.

Around this time, Rod Stewart was a major artist and living the dream. So off he went on a holiday to Rio with his pals Elton John and Freddie Mercury. Stewart said himself that Taj Mahal was being played “everywhere” in Rio.

Strangely enough, fast forward a couple of years and Rod released his chart-topping disco hit Do Ya Think I’m Sexy in 1978. As I always like to suggest, have a listen to Taj Mahal and Do Ya Think I’m Sexy and see what you think. In my view there is quite an obvious similarity in the riffs.

Jorge Ben noticed this and took action against Rod Stewart. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, Stewart was forthcoming in admitting the similarities. He said: “I held my hand up straightaway. Not that I had stood in the studio and said, ‘Here, I know, we’ll use that tune from Taj Mahal as the chorus and be done with it. The writer lives in Brazil, so he’ll never find out.’”. He went on to say: “Clearly the melody had lodged itself in my memory and then resurfaced. Unconscious plagiarism, plain and simple”.

Stewart’s way of working often involved going into the studio without anything planning and seeing what happened. In this case, he says he had subconsciously remembered the song and was influenced by it. The parties eventually settled out of court and allegedly the royalties eventually ended up as a donation to UNICEF. This just goes to show that copyright infringement can happen even if you are not necessarily going out of your way to infringe someone else’s rights.

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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