A new copyright infringement lawsuit claims Sam Smith and Normani copied essential elements of a 2015 song titled “Dancing With a Stranger” to release their own sultry single by the same name four years later.
In the complaint filed in federal court in Los Angeles on Friday, songwriters Jordan Vincent, Christopher Miranda and Rosco Banlaoi allege that Smith’s moody, multiplatinum duet with the former Fifth Harmony band member has the “same” title, chorus and composition as the song previously published on Vincent’s YouTube channel, Spotify and other streaming services on Aug. 30, 2017.
“The hook/chorus in both songs — the most significant part and artistic aspect of these works — contains the lyrics ‘dancing with a stranger’ being sung over a nearly identical melody and musical composition,” the complaint obtained by Rolling Stone reads.
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The lawsuit offers a side-by-side comparison of the two songs and alleges their attendant music videos are strikingly similar. “Both videos consist of a girl performing interpretive dance alone in a minimalist studio, interspersed with shots of the male vocalist,” the filing states.
“A girl dancing alone is not an obvious visual theme for a music video titled ‘Dancing With a Stranger,’ tending to dispel any notion that this similarity is a coincidence,” the paperwork argues. “When the extraordinary musical similarity between the songs is also factored in, it becomes even more apparent that it is impossible that the infringing composition and sound recording were independently created.”
According to the filing, Smith and their co-writers on the song, Tor Erik Hermansen and James John Napier, as well as Normani’s manager Brandon Silverstein and her mentor Tim Blacksmith, all had access to the 2017 song, its video and even the video’s call sheet through either Thrive Records or its agents. The lawsuit claims Thrive was given the materials in 2015 because the label had been “extremely interested in using plaintiff’s song for another artist,” though “the deal never went through.”
“Another suspicious coincidence is that the call sheet for plaintiff’s music video specifically mentioned using the visual concept of mannequins coming to life. Although this concept was not ultimately utilized in plaintiff’s music video, Normani and the director of defendants’ music video gave an interview in 2019 discussing how defendants wanted to use porcelain statues coming to life for their music video,” the lawsuit alleges. “The odds that such a unique but highly similar idea would have come independently to defendants are astronomical, especially considering the other shared similarities.”
Reps for Smith and Normani did not immediately respond to requests for comment from Rolling Stone.
A report from musicologist Dr. Alexander Stewart attached to the lawsuit as an exhibit states that “given the degree of similarity” between the two songs, it’s “extremely unlikely that [Smith’s song] was created independently from [Vincent’s].”
The plaintiffs say point out that Smith and Normani’s single was certified platinum in more than 10 countries and has been streamed more than three billion times. “As a result of defendants’ exploitation of plaintiff’s song without permission, they obtained a massive international hit single which generated significant revenue and profits,” the lawsuit alleges.
The lawsuit is seeking real and punitive damages and lists Universal Music Group, Sony Music Group, EMI Music Publishing on the long list of defendants.
“Defendants’ representatives were contacted in November 2020 about the similarities. Defendants were given every chance to come up with an innocent explanation, but, despite assurances that a response was coming including a musicological analysis and report, the defendants never issued a response. This suit is being filed as a last resort,” the lawsuit states.
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