Canadian pop star (and current Calvin Klein model) Justin Bieber and the co-writers of his 2015 hit “Sorry” are being sued for allegedly stealing a vocal riff from another artist who said she used it on her own song a year prior. In a complaint filed last week in U.S. District Court, Middle District of Tennessee, Casey Dienel, an indie artist who performs under the name White Hinterland, accused Bieber of infringing her copyright to the song “Ring the Bell” by using a “virtually identical” riff without permission. Among the other defendants are the producer Skrillex and Universal Music Group.
Dienel claims that “Sorry,” which is included on Bieber’s album “Purpose” and has more than 1.42 billion YouTube views, adopted the “specific and unique characteristics of the female vocal riff” from her song, sampling it for the first eight seconds of “Sorry” and several times thereafter. She further alleged that The New York Times Magazine noted the riff’s distinctiveness, when it praised Bieber’s song for its “cooing arpeggio that feels like a gentle breeze on your brain” in a March 13 article titled “25 Songs That Tell Us Where Music Is Going.” Bieber’s song ranked No. 1.
Dienel also said she reached out to Bieber to discuss a resolution, but he “ignored” her claims and refused to discuss the matter. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages, including from profits generated by “Sorry.”
Spokespeople for Bieber, Skrillex and Universal had no immediate comment or did not immediately respond to requests for comment. However, over the weekend, Skrillex posted footage showing him manipulating the vocal pitch and cutting the original a cappella from the Sorry writing sessions to create the loop they have been accused of stealing. Bieber, 22, tweeted the same footage to his 82 million followers with the hashtag, #wedontsteal.
Accusations of copyright infringement — and accompanying demands for credit and royalties — are common in the music industry. In fact, just this past month, Kanye West was named in a $2.5 million lawsuit for allegedly copying part of his 2013 song, “New Slaves.” Both suits will likely settle out of court in no time. “Music infringement claims tend to be settled early on, with financially successful defendants doling out basically extorted payoffs to potential plaintiffs rather than facing expensive, protracted and embarrassing litigation,” said Charles Cronin, a lecturer at the Gould School of Law at the University of Southern California, who specializes in music copyright.