The music industry has seen many cases of plagiarism throughout its history. One of the most notorious cases in the 1980s was the dispute between Ray Parker Jr, creator of the iconic Ghostbusters theme song, and Huey Lewis, who claimed that Parker Jr's song infringed on the copyright of his hit song "I Want a New Drug". In this article, we look at this plagiarism case and its implications for the music industry.
In 1984, Ray Parker Jr. was hired to write and record the theme song for the film Ghostbusters. The resulting song, also called "Ghostbusters", quickly became a hit and topped the charts. However, Huey Lewis and his lawyers noticed similarities between "Ghostbusters" and his song "I Want a New Drug", which had been released a year earlier.
Huey Lewis filed a lawsuit against Ray Parker Jr. and Columbia Pictures, claiming that the melody and structure of the two songs were substantially similar. In the lawsuit, Lewis claimed that Parker Jr.'s song was largely based on his song, which constituted copyright infringement.
The lawsuit between Ray Parker Jr. and Huey Lewis was settled out of court in 1985 after both sides agreed to an out-of-court settlement. Although the exact details of the settlement were not made public at the time, it was reported that Parker Jr. paid Lewis an undisclosed sum as part of the agreement. In addition, confidentiality clauses were included in the settlement which prevented either party from speaking publicly about the case and its details.
As a result, the case was not heard and no legal precedent was set. This meant that there was no official ruling on whether Ghostbusters actually infringed the copyright of I Want a New Drug. The out-of-court settlement prevented the case from being considered in detail by a judge and jury, which could have shed more light on the similarities between the two songs and established clear criteria for similar cases in the future.
Despite the confidentiality of the agreement, in 2001 Huey Lewis revealed in an interview with VH1's Behind the Music magazine that the agreement included a substantial sum of money and a non-disclosure clause. However, because Lewis mentioned the agreement in the interview, Parker Jr. sued him in 2001 for breach of the confidentiality clause. The outcome of this lawsuit was not widely publicised, but it serves as a reminder of the consequences of not honouring the terms of a legal agreement.
In short, while the out-of-court settlement avoided a lengthy and costly trial, it also left unanswered some key questions about the nature of copyright infringement and how such cases should be handled in the future. The lack of legal precedent in this particular case means that similar disputes in the music industry will have to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, rather than relying on established legal criteria.
Implications for the music industry
The Ghostbusters v Huey Lewis case has highlighted the importance of copyright protection in the music industry. It also served as a reminder to musicians and songwriters of the need to be aware of intellectual property and to avoid misappropriating other artists' works.
Although the case was settled out of court, the controversy surrounding this particular case of plagiarism sparked a debate about the boundaries between inspiration and copyright infringement in music. The fine line between influence and copying remains a topic of discussion in the music industry to this day.
The case of Ghostbusters and "I Want a New Drug" is just one of many cases of plagiarism in the music industry. These disputes highlight the importance of recognising and respecting the copyrights of other artists and the need for greater clarity in intellectual property rights in music. As the music industry continues to evolve, copyright protection and the prevention of plagiarism will remain key issues for artists and industry professionals.
Photo by Erik Mclean on Pexels
Author Gabriel Espinoza