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James Newman successfully defeats song-theft claim over his Rudimental hit

By | Published on Tuesday 17 August 2021

James Newman

James Newman has successfully fought off a legal claim by another songwriter who accused him of ripping off her work on Rudimental’s 2013 hit ‘Waiting All Night’, which Newman co-wrote.

Kelly-Marie Smith initially also sued all three members of Rudimental and another co-writer, Jonny Harris, in relation her claim that ‘Waiting All Night’ infringed the copyright in her 2007 song ‘Can You Tell Me?’ However, it was her claim against Newman that was the focus by the time the matter reached the the high court in London, because he had penned the elements of ‘Waiting All Night’ that were similar to Smith’s song.

Smith claimed that, although her song never had a commercial release in 2007, it had been posted online and circulated around the music industry, providing an opportunity for a copy to ultimately reach Newman. Meanwhile, she added, key elements of ‘Waiting All Night’ and ‘Can You Tell Me?’ were so similar that copying was the only explanation.

In his judgement, judge Antony Zacaroli acknowledged those similarities, which involve both lyrics and melody. He noted how both songs contain the line “tell me that you”, and that this lyric “is repeated a number of times, in each case sung to four semi-quavers, followed by one of a variety of two word phrases: in ‘Can You Tell Me?’ these are ‘love me’, ‘need me’ and ‘won’t leave’; in ‘Waiting All Night’ these are ‘need me’ and ‘want me'”.

However, he added, while those similarities are noteworthy, they are not beyond coincidence. “I do not find it surprising that two people writing a popular song could independently alight on the phrase ‘tell me that you need me'”, he wrote, referencing the fourteen other songs the defence had identified that also contain the phrase. Plus, “given the genre of music involved, I do not think it is surprising that the words are set to similar melodies”.

As for how Newman might have heard ‘Can You Tell Me?’ before writing ‘Waiting All Night’, the judge said that Smith’s theories in that domain were based on “tenuous connections”.

There was no evidence that Newman had seen a video containing the earlier song when it was posted to MySpace and Vimeo. And while a copy of the work was circulated around the industry, there was no evidence that it ever reached Newman, directly or via Rudimental, despite Smith claiming she had some contacts in common with the group.

“It is not likely that [Smith’s track] was still being promoted within the music business five years later”, Zacaroli added. “[And] it is most unlikely that anyone would have passed it to Mr Newman who, prior to and at the time of writing ‘Waiting All Night’, was working in a restaurant. Although he had by this time developed links with the band members of Rudimental and Mr Harris, some of whom were established in the business, he was hardly the sort of person anyone would be pitching songs to”.

Concluding, the judge said there was no evidence that Newman ripped off Smith’s work when penning his Rudimental hit.

“While there are objective similarities between the choruses of both songs, there are differences which – in the context of a simple melody which spans only three different tones – are not insignificant”, he wrote, “and it is plausible in my view that two persons trying to write a hit song in the genre of ‘Waiting All Night’ would come up with the lyric ‘tell me that you need me’ and would set it to music in a way that is similar to ‘Can You Tell Me?'”