Copyright Infringement: Public Announcement was Barking up the Wrong Tree
In Bridgeport Music v. UMG Recordings, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held that the song “D.O.G in Me” by Public Announcement willfully infringed Bridgeport’s copyright in the 1982 song “Atomic Dog” by George Clinton.
What intrigues me is that the finding of infringement was based the substantial similarity of only a limited amount of the lyrics: Use of the phrase ?Bow wow wow, yippie yo, yippie yea?, repetition of the word ?dog? in a low tone of voice at regular intervals, and the sound of rhythmic panting.
The court rejected UMG’s assertion of a fair use defense, noting, in particular, that although the substantial similarity pertained to relatively small elements of ?Atomic Dog?, they were the most distinctive and recognizable elements of the song.
What this case teaches us: Using even a small portion of someone’s copyrighted work can constitute infringement if that portion is sufficiently distinctive and recognizable.
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