Just days after a jury found Robin Thicke and Pharrell liable to the tune of $7.4 million for channeling the late Marvin Gaye in creating their mega hit “Blurred Lines,” Willie Nelson finds himself as the target in a similar lawsuit. According to a report from the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Ashley Wilson and the estate of Mark Reynolds have filed suit in federal court in Atlanta against Nelson claiming that his song, “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” is a rip-off of their song bearing the same name. Specifically, they allege that:
[T]he infringing work contains the same title and dominant line in the chorus as the original work, with substantially similar melody, rhythm and cadence, as well as substantially similar lyrical themes.
Nelson released his song on the Heroes album back in 2012. Wilson and Reynolds allegedly wrote theirs in 1990, performed it throughout the 1990’s, and released it on Georgia radio. In March 2012, prior to Nelson spending five weeks atop the American radio charts, the Wilson/Reynolds version was uploaded to YouTube.
We here at Abnormal Use will refrain from jumping to quick conclusions in this matter. Certainly, if Nelson is profiting by singing the exact same song of another without proper attribution, then he should pay for it. On the other hand, we seriously doubt Nelson, Wilson, and Reynolds are the only
potheads persons to come up with some ingenious title like “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.” If they all just happen to have similar stoned ideas, then perhaps no real infringing harm is done.
We don’t know what effect, if any, the Thicke/Williams lawsuit has had on this one. However, we are concerned that with the verdict, these music infringment suits shall become more and more popular. As both lawyers and music lovers, we are not happy with this turn of events. We have often expressed concern that music has been on a steady decline since the 1990’s because every good idea has been used. Every musician is influenced by those who came before him or her and those influences are naturally recycled into new songs. What do we think will happen to music if every time one of those influences peeks its head in a new song, the forefather brings an infringement suit? Musicians could never listen to other music out of fear it might surface in their own. And, if they never listened to music, they wouldn’t know what music is so they would never become musicians in the first place! Alas! Music is dead.
Or, maybe we are exaggerating slightly. Thinking about Willie Nelson songs will do that to you.