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Classic Copyright Cases – The Beach Boys

March 29, 2021, By

I can remember hearing The Beach Boys way back when I was but a youngster. It was long before the days of Coronavirus and being equipped with a mask whenever you leave the house. My old man has always had a penchant for rock music so I guess I have him to thank for that.

In 1963 The Beach Boys had their first hit in the States with Surfin’ U.S.A. Surely everyone knows this song.

Brian Wilson wrote the song as a tribute to rock legend Chuck Berry. He had been inspired by Berry’s 1958 song Sweet Little Sixteen which namedropped various U.S. cities and decided to do the same thing but with surf spots in California – radical.

Now they say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery but Chuck Berry was not on board with that logic. As always, have a listen to both songs and see what you think. It’s pretty fair to say that this is an open-and-shut case.

Berry’s lawyers came gunning and, with the threat of legal action, The Beach Boys’ manager, Murray Wilson, handed over the publishing royalties to Berry’s publisher, Arc Royalties. As the legend goes, the band did not realise that they were not getting paid out from this song until around 25 years later.

Apparently Brian Wilson never held a grudge and still regularly includes Berry songs in his live shows, even mixing the lyrics to Sweet Little Sixteen into his live renditions of Surfin’ U.S.A. Still must hurt to be losing out on all that cash mind.

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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