In an opinion Friday, Judge Cote dismissed a lawsuit accusing Usher of copying the plaintiffs’ 2002 song “Caught Up” when Usher released a song of the same name in 2004. She found that, although the two songs used the phrase “caught up” in the chorus, they were not substantially similar:
A comparison of the sound recordings of the two songs confirms that their music is not substantially similar. There are a number of material differences. First, the Plaintiffs’ Song is in significant part a rap song. The Challenged Song has no rapping; Usher sings all of the lyrics. The Plaintiffs’ Song also consists of a duet including a male and a female singer, whereas the Challenged Song features a solo male lead singer. Moreover, the Challenged Song contains significantly sparser instrumentation backing the singers’ vocals than does the Plaintiffs’ Song. The Challenged Song also features “unmistakable Motown influences” influences, whereas the Plaintiffs’ Song does not. And the chorus, or hook, of each song, although both employing the phrase “Caught Up,” feature entirely dissimilar melodies . . . . The lyrics of the two songs are also not substantially similar. Attached to this Opinion as an Appendix is a side by side comparison of the two songs’ lyrics. The only significant point of overlap is the use of the phrase “caught up” in the chorus of each song. As explained above, that phrase is not copyrightable. Nor have the Defendants copied any original arrangement of that phrase that would constitute protectable expression. Beyond the phrase “caught up” there is no overlap between the lyrics of the two songs beyond commonplace words like “hit” “girl” and control.” Moreover, the Plaintiffs’ Song’s lyrics are structured as a back-and-forth between the male protagonist and the woman who is the object of his affections. The Challenged Song’s lyrics do not contain any back-and-forth and consist solely of the male narrator telling his story. Nor does the fact that both songs’ lyrics tell the story of “a man caught up in love” save the Plaintiffs’ claim. Themes are not independently protectable.