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Sam Smith gives Tom Petty songwriting credit, despite ‘coincidental’ song similarities

By | Published on Tuesday 27 January 2015

Sam Smith

Sam Smith has changed the credits on his hit ‘Stay With Me’ to include Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne as co-songwriters, following a copyright dispute.

Petty and Lynne’s publishers Wixen Music and EMI Music Publishing recently raised questions over similarities between ‘Stay With Me’ – originally credited to Smith, James Napier and William Phillips – and Petty’s ‘I Won’t Back Down, which was co-written with Lynne.

In a statement, a rep for Smith confirmed the change to Rolling Stone, saying: “Not previously familiar with the 1989 Petty/Lynne song, the writers of ‘Stay With Me’ listened to ‘I Won’t Back Down’ and [nonetheless] acknowledged the similarity. Although the likeness was a complete coincidence, all involved came to an immediate and amicable agreement in which Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne are now credited as co-writers of ‘Stay With Me’ along with Sam Smith, James Napier and William Phillips”.

If the similarities were indeed ‘coincidental’, you might ask why Smith and his publisher, Sony/ATV would back down so quickly. It may be to do with what’s known as ‘sub-conscious infringement’, in that it’s possible to infringe copyright without actively realising it.

Which means that if the matter had gone to court, there would have been a focus on whether Smith, Napier or Phillips may have inadvertently heard the song at any point and subconsciously adapted it. It’s a tricky area of copyright law, but it’s how they got Elastica. So I guess, if you can, settle now and avoid falling foul to ambiguous law.

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