Nickelback Respond to “Rockstar” Copyright Lawsuit
People with functioning ears the world over scratched their heads last month when Kirk Johnston, a former member of the band Snowblind Revival, brought a lawsuit against Nickelback for alleged copyright infringement in their hit song “Rockstar.” Other than a general similarity in lyrical themes — wanting be a rock star, not an uncommon song topics throughout the ages — the two tracks had little in common to the ordinary observer.
Now Nickelback have fired back, claiming the two songs sound nothing alike while outlining musical examples of their differences.
Johnston claims the theft happened when Snowblind Revival sent their demo to several music companies around 2001, including Nickelback’s label, Roadrunner Records. He says that “a substantial amount of the music” was copied, including “the tempo, song form, melodic structure, harmonic structures, and lyrical themes.”
In official court documents obtained by Blabbermouth, Nickelback refute those claims, stating Johnston’s suit is on shaky legal ground to begin with:
“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.”
Addressing elements of the musical compositions as they compare to one another, they said:
“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 documents further go on to question the mechanism by which Johnston claims Nickelback could have stolen his work, challenging his assertion that they ever even heard it. Johnston, they say, failed to provide the names of any record label representatives he may have met with, or any information about those meetings. 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’].”
But the suit meets the minimum threshold to proceed, according to Magistrate Judge Susan Hightower in her recommendation submitted to Judge Robert Pitman of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas on August 11. “Johnston has alleged facts sufficient to raise his right to relief above the speculative level, which is all that is required at the pleading stage,” she said, adding that it will be up to eventual jurors to decide if the songs are similar enough for Johnston to win the claim.
Listen to both songs below and decide for yourself.