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Jewish World Review August 20, 2002 / 12 Elul, 5762

Sean Carter

Sean Carter
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Consumer Reports

They write the songs that make the whole world ... sue | The success of the TV show, American Idol, will undoubtedly prompt many aspiring singers and songwriters to follow their dreams of musical stardom. These talented individuals will face many obstacles along their path to stardom. But only a lucky few will make it to the pinnacle of musical success - a lawsuit.

This is precisely what happened to superstar pop group, Destiny's Child. On their road to superstardom, the group faced adversity. In 2000, two original members, LeToya Luckett and LaTavia, quit the group, leaving only Beyonce Knowles and Kelly Rowland. The two departing members were quickly replaced with Michelle Williams and Farrah Franklin. Then, just a few months later, Franklin dropped out of the group, too.

Of course, this was probably the biggest mistake in the music industry since someone decided that Mariah Carey could carry her own movie. The remaining trio went on to record such mega-hits as "Say My Name" and "Survivor." Nevertheless, the group's ultimately destiny was a court of law.

Earlier this year, Luckett and Roberson filed a lawsuit against Williams, Royland, their manager and Sony Music. In their lawsuit, they claim that the song "Survivor" violated the separation agreement in which both sides agreed not to disparage each other publicly.

Although the song never mentions Luckett or Roberson by name, they claim that the song is about them. In one verse, for instance, the group sings:

"You thought that I'd be stressed without you,
But I'm chillin.'
You thought I wouldn't sell with out you;
Sold 9 million."

Of course, the defendants argued that the song was not written about the plaintiffs. It was, they claim, a more generally swipe at everyone who ever disparaged the group. Nevertheless, last month, they agreed to settle the lawsuit for an undisclosed amount (I'd guess "9 million"). It is also rumored that Destiny's Child's agreed to release a remake entitled "Don't Say My Name."

Now, with the massive success enjoyed by Destiny's Child, it's not altogether surprising that someone would insist upon a piece of the action. But even if a group never reaches the top of the charts, they are still likely to appear in a court near you.

Take, for instance, the case of the Danish group, Aqua. In 1997, Aqua had a moderate hit with the song "Barbie Girl." This song featured a doll-like female voice singing:

"I'm a Barbie girl, in my Barbie world
Life in plastic, it's fantastic
You can brush my hair, undress me everywhere
Imagination, life is your creation."

Not surprisingly, Mattel took exception with this song. They sued the record company, Universal, claiming trademark infringement. According to Mattel, the song diluted the value of its trademark in the name "Barbie." Moreover, Mattel claimed the song could possibly mislead consumers into thinking that Mattel endorsed the song or worse --- that plastic Barbie hairbrushes were included and not sold separately.

Recently, a federal appellate court ruled against Mattel. Aqua's First Amendment rights, it opined, outweighed Mattel's interest in preserving the sanctity of Malibu Barbie (beach house not included).

Nevertheless, these cases illustrate two major problems in America today. First, the quality of music has gone way downhill. Perhaps, I am dating myself, but when I was a young man, a hit song had to have more than a fancy drumbeat and a memorable chorus. It also had to have meaning. Take, for instance, Kool & The Gang's classic hit song, "Celebrate":

"Celebrate good times, come on!
It's a celebration
Celebrate good times, come on!
Let's celebrate"

Now, that was music! Sure the song was 27 minutes long and only consisted of these four lines repeated over and over again, but the message was worth repeating. Instead, today's songs feature such meaningless messages as "Oops!...I Did It Again" and "It's getting hot in here/So take off all your clothes." On second thought, perhaps some of today's songs do have meaning.

In any event, given the lawsuits against Destiny's Child and Aqua, it's perfectly understandable why so few of today's songs have any meaning. After all, if an artist dares to express an opinion, then he is likely to end up singing "On the Chain Gang."

This must stop! In fact, I suggest that we all pledge to NOT file lawsuits about pop songs. Therefore, if your ex-girlfriend writes a song about you, don't be vain and think this song is about you (about you). Instead, just pop in a Kool & The Gang 8-track and "Celebrate good times!"

Now, if you will excuse me, it's getting hot in here.

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JWR contributor Sean Carter is a practicing attorney, stand-up comedian and humor writer. Comment by clicking here.


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03/31/02: Seniors are "disparately" seeking equal justice
03/08/02: More than a day late, but definitely not a dollar short
02/12/02: Beam me up, your honor!
01/25/02: Until irreconcilable differences do us part
12/17/01: Teachers go to the pokey for playing hooky
11/16/01: When baseball fans attack ...
11/02/01: Pop-torts
09/04/01: Can't beat the competition? Sue, baby, sue!

© 2002, Sean Carter