Avril sued over ‘Girlfriend’
TORONTO (CP) – Canadian faux-punk princess Avril Lavigne, repeatedly dogged by accusations she doesn’t write her own songs, is now being dragged into a legal battle to prove she penned her chart-topping hit “Girlfriend.”
A pair of U.S. songwriters allege her contagious single sounds suspiciously like a song called “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend,” released by the Rubinoos in 1979.
The American song features the upbeat chorus: “Hey, hey, you, you, I wanna be your boyfriend,” much like Lavigne’s boppy refrain, which declares: “Hey, hey, you, you, I don’t like your girlfriend.”
San Francisco lawyer Nicholas Carlin said Wednesday that the similarities are clear, and accused Lavigne of copying substantial chunks of the song from the one crafted by his client, Rubinoos founder and songwriter Tommy Dunbar.
“She’s made a lot of money off of my client’s song,” Carlin said by phone from northern California, where the claim was filed.
“The entire song is not the same, they have different bridges, but the heart and soul of her song is directly taken from our client’s song.”
Lavigne’s manager, Terry McBride, scoffed at the charges, calling the suit “baseless” and little more than a “case of legal blackmail.”
“Avril’s a great songwriter and she’s proving it over and over and over again,” McBride said from Vancouver, where he runs Nettwerk Music Group.
“Avril’s very, very sensible. She knows music well. If the chords had been similar, the melodies had been similar, lyrics had been similar … she would have gone, ‘OK, I can see their point.’ But nothing’s similar.”
McBride said the suit was filed July 2 but that he received a draft of the claim roughly six weeks ago.
It names as the plaintiffs songwriters Dunbar and James Gangwer and names Lavigne, Avril Lavigne Publishing, and the 22-year-old’s songwriting partner Dr. Luke among the defendants.
While Carlin admitted that the lyrics and melodies differ, he insisted that the main hook of Dunbar’s song was ripped off.
“You don’t have to have the entire song to be similar to the original song for it to be an infringement. It just requires a certain, substantial similarity, meaning an important part of the song,” he explained.
He went on to recite the lyrics to Lavigne’s upbeat track, noting they morph from “I don’t like your girlfriend” to “I want to be your girlfriend.”
McBride said he hired a musicologist to study both tracks and the expert found no basis for the allegations.
“This one came back so solidly on our side it’s just ridiculous,” he said.
Still, McBride admitted he’s considering settling the suit out of court if the costs of defending the case prove too high.
He noted that a similar claim against his client Sarah McLachlan about 10 years ago cost roughly $500,000 to defeat in court. When Nettwerk tried to recoup the costs from the plaintiffs, they declared bankruptcy, he said.
Veteran entertainment lawyer Paul Sanderson said copyright suits are common in the music business and are often settled out of court.
“There used to be a saying in the industry: ‘Where there’s a hit, there’s a writ,’ ” said Sanderson, a Toronto lawyer who used to represent Lavigne and whose current clients include Chantal Kreviazuk and Ron Sexsmith.
“It really is about the money. If someone thinks that they have a possibility of making some money out of the claim and there’s money in the pipeline that’s been earned by a song … there’s money there to argue about.”
McBride said his current legal battle is “an unfortunate part of this business.”
“We will try and settle for costs that will be less than defending,” he said. “Emotionally, it sucks. But at the end of the day you have to take that out of it.”
The legal blow is just the latest in a series of jabs that question Lavigne’s songwriting claims.
Last month, Kreviazuk suggested to Performing Songwriter magazine that Lavigne took credit for a song Kreviazuk wrote called “Contagious.”
Kreviazuk told the publication she gave a song called “Contagious” to Lavigne two years ago and was surprised to see a track with the same name on Lavigne’s current disc with a credit to Lavigne and songwriter Evan Taubenfeld.
McBride said Kreviazuk has never even heard the Lavigne track and has since retracted her statement.
“I know, personally, she regrets saying what she said,” said McBride, adding the songs are nothing alike. “The interviewer obviously got Chantal on a bad day.”
Lavigne, who grew up in Napanee, Ont., has also had to deflect accusations from the Matrix, the production team behind hits “Sk8er Boi” and “I’m With You.”
Songwriter Lauren Christie told Rolling Stone that Lavigne did little but “change a word here or there,” but Lavigne has insisted the pair crafted the melodies and lyrics together.
McBride said the barrage of criticism facing Lavigne is just part of life at the top of the charts.
“Everyone comes after the stars. If Avril was not successful, they wouldn’t really care,” he said.
Avril sued over ‘Girlfriend’