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Hobbs v John

Hobbs v John

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Published by Ray Dowd
Court compared lyrics of plaintiff’s “Natasha” and Elton John’s “Nikita”.
Court compared lyrics of plaintiff’s “Natasha” and Elton John’s “Nikita”.

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Published by: Ray Dowd on May 05, 2014
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12/28/2014

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Hobbs v. John, 722 F.3d 1089 (2013)
2013 Copr.L.Dec. P 30,459, 107 U.S.P.Q.2d 1447
 © 2014 Thomson Reuters. No claim to original U.S. Government Works.1
722 F.3d 1089United States Court of Appeals,
Seventh
 
Circuit
.Guy
HOBBS
Elton
 
JOHN
, also known as Sir
Elton
Hercules
John
, et al., Defendants–Appellees.No. 12–3652. | Argued May 31,
2013
.
SynopsisBackground:
 Cruise photographer brought action againstmusicians, alleging their song “Nikita” violated copyright inhis song “Natasha” that he wrote while working on a Russiancruise ship. The United States District Court for the NorthernDistrict of Illinois, Amy J. St. Eve, J., 2012
WL
 5342321,granted musicians' motion to dismiss. Photographer appealed.
Holdings:
 The Court of Appeals, Manion, Circuit Judge, heldthat:[1] musicians' song told the tale of an impossible romanceduring the Cold War differently than photographer's song;[2] musicians' song referenced events, described the beloved'seyes, and referenced written correspondence differently; and[3] similarities were rudimentary, commonplace, standard, orunavoidable in popular love songs.Affirmed.West Headnotes (6)
[1] Copyrights and Intellectual Property
Nature and elements of injuryTo establish a copyright infringement claim,a plaintiff must prove: (1) ownership of avalid copyright; and (2) unauthorized copyingof constituent elements of the work that areoriginal. 17 U.S.C.A. § 101 et seq.2 Cases that cite this headnote
[2] Copyrights and Intellectual Property
Ideas and concepts in generalCopyright Act does not protect general ideas,but only the particular expression of an idea. 17U.S.C.A. § 101 et seq.Cases that cite this headnote
[3] Copyrights and Intellectual Property
Use of common expressions, historicalfacts, or other material from public domainAt the level of particular expression, theCopyright Act does not protect incidents,characters, or settings which are as a practicalmatter indispensable, or at least standard, in thetreatment of a given topic. 17 U.S.C.A. § 101 etseq.Cases that cite this headnote
[4] Copyrights and Intellectual Property
Musical worksMusicians' song “Nikita” told the tale of an impossible romance during the Cold Wardifferently than cruise photographer's song“Natasha,” and therefore, did not violatephotographer's copyright; “Natasha” told storyof two people who briefly became intimate, butwho were forced to part ways because one wasnot free and must sail away, while “Nikita” toldthe tale of a man who saw and desired a womanwhom he can never meet because she was on theother side of a “line” held in by “guns and gates.”17 U.S.C.A. § 101 et seq. Cases that cite this headnote
[5] Copyrights and Intellectual Property
Musical worksMusicians' song “Nikita,” which was aboutan impossible love during the Cold War,referenced events that never happened,described the woman's eyes, and referencedwritten correspondence differently than cruisephotographer's song “Natasha,” which was also
 
Hobbs v. John, 722 F.3d 1089 (2013)
2013 Copr.L.Dec. P 30,459, 107 U.S.P.Q.2d 1447
 © 2014 Thomson Reuters. No claim to original U.S. Government Works.2
about an impossible love during the Cold War,and therefore, did not violate photographer'scopyright; “Natasha” referred to “the freedomthe woman will never know,” a relationshipthat “never stood a chance,” and never goingto movies or a dance, while “Nikita” said thewoman could “never find a warmer soul toknow” and “will never know anything about theman's home,” and that the man will “never knowhow good it feels to hold the woman,” “Natasha”referred to “pale blue eyes,” while “Nikita”spoke about “eyes that looked like ice on fire,”and “Natasha” contained complaint “You neversent me a Valentine,” while “Nikita” asked if thewoman ever saw the letters the man wrote. 17U.S.C.A. § 101 et seq.Cases that cite this headnote
[6] Copyrights and Intellectual Property
Musical worksSimilarities of musicians' song “Nikita” andcruise photographer's song “Natasha,” whichwere about an impossible love during the ColdWar, in repeating certain elements and bothsong titles being Russian name beginning withthe letter “N” and ending with letter “A”were rudimentary, commonplace, standard, orunavoidable in popular love songs, and therefore,musicians' song did not violate photographer'scopyright; both songs repeated “never,” to holdyou, “you'll never know,” as well as the woman'sname, repetition was common in popular music,and numerous works in United States CopyrightOffice's Registered Works Database shared titles“Natasha” and “Nikita.” 17 U.S.C.A. § 101 etseq.Cases that cite this headnote
Attorneys and Law Firms*1091
 Daniel J. Voelker (argued), Attorney, VoelkerLitigation Group, Chicago, IL, for Plaintiff–Appellant.Tom J. Ferber (argued), Attorney, Pryor Cashman, NewYork, NY, for Defendants–Appellees.Before FLAUM, MANION, and ROVNER, Circuit Judges.
Opinion
MANION, Circuit Judge.While working on a Russian cruise ship, Guy
Hobbs
composed a song entitled “Natasha” that was inspired bya brief love affair he had with a Russian waitress.
Hobbs
tried to publish his song, but was unsuccessful. A few yearslater,
Elton
 
John
 and Bernie Taupin released a song entitled“Nikita” through a publishing company to which
Hobbs
 hadsent a copy of “Natasha.” Believing that “Nikita” was basedupon “Natasha,”
Hobbs
 eventually demanded compensationfrom
John
 and Taupin, and ultimately filed suit assertinga copyright infringement claim and two related state lawclaims. The defendants moved to dismiss
Hobbs's
 complaintfor failure to state a claim, and the district court granted thedefendants' motion.
Hobbs
 appeals. We affirm.
I. Facts
In 1982, Guy
Hobbs
 began working as a photographer on aRussian cruise ship where he met and romanced a Russianwaitress. His experience inspired him to write a song entitled“Natasha” about an ill-fated romance between a man fromthe United Kingdom and a woman from Ukraine. In 1983,
Hobbs
 registered his copyright of “Natasha” in the UnitedKingdom, and subsequently sent the song to several musicpublishers. One of those publishers was Big Pig Music, Ltd.(“Big Pig”), a company that published songs composed by
Elton
 
John
 and Bernard Taupin. Ultimately,
Hobbs's
 effortsto find a publisher for his song proved unsuccessful. However, in 1985,
John
 released a song entitled “Nikita,”wherein the singer (who is from “the west”) describesheartfelt love for Nikita, whom the singer “saw ... by the wall”and who is on the other side of a “line” held in by “guns andgates.” Big Pig registered the copyright for “Nikita,” and thecopyright application lists both
John
 and Taupin. “Nikita”proved to be extremely successful.
Hobbs
 alleges that he first encountered the written lyricsof “Nikita” in 2001. Believing that “Nikita” infringed hiscopyright of “Natasha,”
Hobbs
 sought compensation from
John
 and Taupin, but his requests were apparently rebuffed.Consequently, in 2012,
Hobbs
 sued
John
, Taupin, andBig Pig in the Northern District of Illinois for copyright
 
Hobbs v. John, 722 F.3d 1089 (2013)
2013 Copr.L.Dec. P 30,459, 107 U.S.P.Q.2d 1447
 © 2014 Thomson Reuters. No claim to original U.S. Government Works.3
infringement in violation of the Copyright Act of 1976.
1
Hobbs
 also asserted two related state law claims. Thedefendants moved to dismiss
Hobbs's
 entire complaintpursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of CivilProcedure for failure to state a claim.
2
*1092
 In opposing the defendants' motion,
Hobbs
 identifieda number of allegedly similar elements between the twosongs. He argued that his selection and combination of those elements in “Natasha” constituted a unique expressionentitled to copyright protection, and that the defendants'similar use of those elements in “Nikita” supported a claimfor copyright infringement. The district court concludedthat the elements identified by
Hobbs
 are not entitled tocopyright protection when considered alone. The districtcourt also rejected
Hobbs's
 “unique combination” theorybecause it thought that
Peters v. West,
 692 F.3d 629,632 (
7th
 
Cir
.2012), precluded a copyright infringementclaim based upon a combination of similar elements thatare unprotectable individually. Despite rejecting
Hobbs's
“unique combination” theory, the district court neverthelesswent on to consider that argument, and concluded that thesimilar elements considered in combination still could notsupport a claim for copyright infringement. The district courtalso concluded that the Copyright Act preempted
Hobbs's
state law claims. Consequently, the district court granted thedefendants' motion and dismissed
Hobbs's
 entire action withprejudice.
Hobbs
 appeals.
II. Lyrics
The lyrics to “Natasha” are:You held my hand a bit too tightI held back the tearsI wanted just to hold you, whisper in your earI love you, girl I need youNatasha ... Natasha ... I didn't want to goNatasha ... Natasha ... the freedom you'll never knowThe freedom you'll never knowBut a Ukraine girl and a UK guy just never stood a chanceNever made it to the movies, never took you to a dance You never sent me a Valentine, I never gave you flowersThere was so much I had to sayBut time was never oursYou sailed away—no big goodbyesMisty tears in those pale blue eyesI wanted just to hold you, whisper in your earI love you, girl I need youRun my fingers through your hairNatasha ... Natasha ... I didn't want to goNatasha ... Natasha ... the freedom you'll never knowThe freedom you'll never knowYou held my hand a bit too tightI held back the tearsI wanted just to hold you, whisper in your earI love you, girl I need youNatasha ... Natasha ... I didn't want to goNatasha ... Natasha ... the freedom you'll never knowThe freedom you'll never know(Spoken quietly) But Natasha ... Remember meThe lyrics to “Nikita” are:Hey Nikita is it coldIn your little corner of the worldYou could roll around the globeAnd never find a warmer soul to knowOh I saw you by the wallTen of your tin soldiers in a rowWith eyes that looked like ice on fireThe human heart a captive in the snow

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