As previously reported, a singer from Texas named Kirk Johnston recently filed a lawsuit against Nickelback, Roadrunner Records, Warner Chappell Music, Inc. and Live Nation Entertainment, Inc. after claiming that the band’s song “Rockstar” was a rip off of his song “Rock Star,” which he wrote for Snowblind Revival in 2001. Now, Nickelback have officially commented on the allegations.
The band said that “the two songs sound nothing alike,” while also adding
“Johnston failed to identify any specific lyrical similarities between the works at issue; he could only conceivably point to the titles of the two works and ‘lyrical themes’. Titles are not protectable by copyright, and their similarity cannot give rise to an infringement claim. Nor does copyright protect the commonplace lyrical theme of imagining being a rock star.”
“As for the music, it is evident to an ordinary observer that the sound recording of [Johnston’s song] has a steady, driving guitar beat, whereas [NICKELBACK’s ‘Rockstar’] does not and is obviously slower. The two songs are not in the same key; [Johnston’s song] is in a major key, whereas [NICKELBACK’s ‘Rockstar’] is in both major and minor keys. Further, the styles of the two works are different. Even [Johnston] acknowledges that his band SNOWBLIND REVIVAL and NICKELBACK play different genres of music: ‘Unlike NICKELBACK’s hard rock sound, SNOWBLIND REVIVAL would be considered an alternative rock band with more indie/eclectic roots.’ And most importantly, the melodies of [Johnston’s song] and [NICKELBACK’s ‘Rockstar’] sound nothing alike.”
The group went on to say that Johnston “provides no details” regarding “the names of the record label representatives with whom he allegedly met, where the meetings took place, or even when the meetings took place.” They continued:
“[Johnston] has failed to allege any means by which [his song] could have ended up in the hands of the individual members of NICKELBACK who composed ‘Rockstar’. None of these allegations describe a chain of events that links [Johnston’s song] to the creation of [NICKELBACK’s ‘Rockstar’].”
Johnston previously claimed that master recordings of Snowblind Revival’s “Rock Star” and three other songs were sent to various record labels, including Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group, of which Roadrunner Records, Inc. and Warner Chappell Music, Inc. are wholly owned indirect subsidiaries. He also said that he believes these labels gave Nickelback access to his track and that they plagiarized it.
He went on to say that “a substantial amount of the music in [Nickelback’s] ‘Rockstar’ is copied from [his] original composition ‘Rock Star’,” including “the tempo, song form, melodic structure, harmonic structures, and lyrical themes.” He is now seeking damages for copyright infringement and an injunction against further infringement.
Due to the evidence that was provided, Magistrate Judge Susan Hightower submitted a recommendation to Judge Robert Pitman of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas saying that Nickelback should face a copyright suit. She also added that the complaints against Live Nation should be dismissed.
After listening to both songs, Hightower also said that it’s possible for a juror to see that the two pieces share protectable elements. However, it is still unclear if Johnston will be able to come up with enough evidence to prove that similarities are “substantial” or “striking,” considering Nickelback’s level of access.