The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected an aspiring rapper's copyright infringement lawsuit today that accuses Kanye West of copying his lyrics and rhyme pattern on the hit song "Stronger."
In 2006, Vincent Peters met with West's business manager and gave him a compact disc of original songs.
One of the songs, "Stronger," features a chorus in which Peters rhymes "stronger," "wronger" and "longer." The lyrics also mention model Kate Moss.
West released a song titled "Stronger" in 2007 and the song rhymes the same three words and refers to Moss. The single sold about 3 million copies and won a Grammy.
Peters — who works under the stage name of "Vince P" — sued West in federal court in Chicago, where U.S. District Judge Virginia M. Kendall dismissed the suit. Peters appealed, but a federal appeals panel ruled in a 15-page opinion written by Judge Diane P. Wood that the two songs aren't similar enough to qualify for copyright infringement.
Both songs are inspired by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche's quotation, "What does not kill me, makes me stronger."
To prove copyright infringement, Wood wrote, the plaintiff must show that the defendant had the chance to copy the song and that the two songs share enough unique features.
Wood held that Peters' allegations passed the first part of the test but not the second.
Regarding the Nietzsche quote, Wood wrote that it's been used in song lyrics in the past century and recently in a Kelly Clarkson hit.
"The ubiquity of this common saying, together with its repeated use in other songs, suggests that West's title and lyric do not infringe on Vince P's song," Wood wrote.
Peters contended that West infringed on his rhyme pattern in the chorus. But Wood held that a copyright only protects actual expression and not the method of expression.
"Nor are we persuaded that the particular rhymes of stronger, longer and wronger qualify for copyright protection," Wood wrote.
Wood reviewed both songs' references to Moss and held that the two lines are different. The judge also wrote that "analogizing to models as a shorthand for beauty is, for better or for worse, commonplace in our society."
"The particular selection of Kate Moss, who is very famous in her own right, adds little to the creative choice," Wood wrote. "And finally, the name alone cannot constitute protectable expression. … Vince P's theory is that the combination of the songs' similar hooks, their shared title and their references to Kate Moss would permit a finding of infringement."
"But, as we have discussed, in the end we see only two songs that rhyme similar words, draw from a commonplace maxim and analogize feminine beauty to a specific successful model."
West was represented by Ilene Farkas of Pryor, Cashman LLP in New York and Carrie A. Hall of Michael, Best & Friedrich LLP. Hall referred questions to Farkas, who couldn't be reached for comment this morning.
Peters was represented by William T. McGrath of Davis, McGrath LLC.
"I'm disappointed in the ruling and I'm sure he will be too," McGrath said, referring to his client. "We felt the appearances of some of these elements could not be coincidental."
Chief Judge Frank H. Easterbrook and Judge William J. Bauer joined in the opinion, which is Vincent Peters, etc. v. Kanye West, et al. No. 11-1708.