7 November 2022


In this issue of zoom-in brief, the copyright lawsuit against Mariah Carey over her hit Christmas song All I Want for Christmas is You has been dropped, the Guardian newspaper has settled a libel claim with two Irish fishermen; whilst Sir James Dyson’s libel proceedings against Channel 4 News have been dismissed.

Editorial credit: Kathy Hutchins/shutterstock.com
Editorial credit: Kathy Hutchins/shutterstock.com
Mariah Carey

Copyright – US – Mariah Carey festive lawsuit dropped

Christmas has seemingly come early for Mariah Carey, with news that the copyright lawsuit against her has been dropped.

Andy Stone, who performs under the name Vince Vance, filed proceedings in New Orleans against the popstar in June for copyright infringement and unjust enrichment. He alleged that Carey’s hit 1994 song All I Want for Christmas is You is a derivative work based on his 1989 song of the same name, and that Carey never sought or obtained permission to use his song to create, reproduce, record, sell or perform her version.

Carey’s song remains hugely popular decades after its release – being streamed more than one billion times on Spotify, and reportedly earning Carey more than £48 million in royalties. Stone’s claim seeks US $20 million in damages, asserting that Carey received “undeserved” profit from the song title.

Copyright claims against famous singers have become relatively common – zoom-in has recently reported on actions against stars Ed Sheeran, Kanye West and Drake. However, the claim against Carey is unusual because it does not focus on the musical similarity between the two tracks, but their identical titles. Stone’s argument is that he should have copyright on subsequent works bearing that title, and that Carey would have been aware of his earlier song because it had received “extensive airplay”.

Stone later amended his pleading to allege that the lyrics of both songs also had “substantial similarities”, and that they “tell the same story, incorporating the same arc from beginning to end, of an individual who wants their partner more than material goods or seasonal comforts”.

However, Stone has now filed to dismiss the claim on a “without prejudice” basis – meaning that he could bring the claim again in the future. He has not commented publicly on his reasons for doing so. However, the prospects of that claim are questionable. Several media outlets reporting on the case have noted that the United States Copyright Office lists 177 entries on its website under the title ‘All I want for Christmas’ – and that some of these pre-date Stone’s track.

Defamation – Claim against the Guardian by Irish fishermen settles

The Guardian has settled a libel claim brought against it by two Irish fishermen. The two fishermen, Lenny Hyde and Pat O’Mahony, were the subject of a wider Guardian investigation into the use of undocumented African and Irish migrants in the Irish fishing sector. The Guardian’s story, published in 2015, featured claims from a migrant worker who alleged that Hyde and O’Mahony, together with a recruitment agency in Manila, had brought him to Ireland to work in exploitative conditions. The worker claimed that he had been taken on a four-day fishing trip without receiving any safety training, and became seriously ill.

The fishermen’s libel claim has been ongoing for almost seven years. In 2020, the Court heard preliminary arguments about discovery against non-parties, and ultimately ordered that the Department of Tourism and Garda Commissioner disclose all documents held by inspectors of the Marine Survey Office relating to the boat and worker in question. The Guardian argued that these documents were directly relevant to its planned defence of truth.

The claim was finally due to be heard by a jury in the High Court in Dublin this month. However, according to the Guardian, the parties agreed to settle the claim with no admissions of liability. In England and Wales, there have been no jury trials since the presumption in favour of jury trials was removed in 2013. Jury trials for libel actions remain in Ireland – although a recent review by the Minister for Justice Helen McEntee recommended that jurors should no longer be involved in defamation cases because of their tendency to award very large damages awards.

Commenting on the settlement, the Guardian noted that the article in question led to the Irish Government forming an interdepartmental taskforce to tackle the issues in the fishing industry – which were said to be an “open secret”. The Irish Government has now introduced a permit scheme to regularise the position of migrant fisherman. However, Hyde and O’Mahoney denied the Guardian’s claims against them, and said that they were unaware of the migrant worker’s treatment. They were charged under the Illegal Immigrants (Trafficking) Act and Employment Permits Act, but in 2020 the Irish Examiner reported that Hyde and O’Mahoney had been cleared of all charges brought against them after a Garda investigation.

Defamation - Dyson libel claim dismissed

Sir James Dyson’s libel claim has fallen at the first hurdle, with the High Court holding that the broadcast complained of did not defame him.

Sir James commenced libel proceedings against Channel 4 over an item on Channel Four News in February this year, which alleged that workers manufacturing Dyson products in South East Asia suffered “abuse, inhuman work conditions, and in one case, even torture”.  Sir James was the first claimant, but the claim was also brought by two Dyson companies – Dyson Technology Limited (a UK-based company within the Dyson group) and Dyson Limited (Dyson’s UK trading company).

Following a trial of preliminary issues in October, the High Court has now dismissed the claim. There are two key takeaways from the judgment.

First, the Court found that the broadcast did not refer to the two Dyson companies who had brought the claim. Neither of them had been named in the broadcast. Further, the allegations in the broadcast were not directed against the entire Dyson group – so this was not a case where every company in the group had a claim arising from the broadcast. Rather, the Court held that the key target of the broadcast was the Dyson company that had an agreement with, and oversight of, the Malaysian company accused of abuse. This is a stark reminder to companies pursuing libel claims to carefully consider and plead the appropriate corporate claimant.

However, this authority does not signal that it is always appropriate to try intrinsic reference as a preliminary issue. That was possible in this case because the parties agreed that the question could be determined without any extrinsic evidence – but the judge warned that “care needs to be taken” before the Court adopts this course.

Second, the Court found “without difficulty” that the words did not defame Sir James. Although he was named and pictured in the broadcast, the broadcast was “simply not about him, and no ordinary reasonable viewer could conclude that he was being in any way criticised”. The Court concluded that only a reader that was “hopelessly naïve” about how global companies operate could conclude that its founder had day-to-day management responsibility for what happened in the manufacturing plant.

Following the judgment, a spokesperson for the Dyson companies maintained that in their opinion the broadcast “made misleading and defamatory allegations against the Dyson companies”.


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