Johnny Depp has spent far more time in the public eye in court rooms than on film screens in recent years and it does not appear that’s set to change anytime soon. While his fight with ex-wife Amber Heard is not over yet, Depp’s newest legal battle doesn’t involve her at all, as the Pirates of the Caribbean actor, along with guitarist Jeff Beck, who recorded an album and went on tour together, are now suing a professor who accused the duo of plagiarism.
In August folklorist Bruce Jackson accused Depp and Beck’s song “Sad Motherfuckin’ Parade,” a song which seemed to be about Depp's ongoing battle with Heard, of plagiarizing a poem called “Hobo Ben” that appeared in his book Get Your Ass in the Water and Swim Like Me. Jackson does not claim to be the author of the poem, but claims it was recounted to him by a man named Slim Wilson, who was at the time, an inmate at the Missouri State Penitentiary.
Now Rolling Stone, (via The Guardian) says that Depp and Beck are suing for unspecified damages. They’re also looking to get their legal fees paid for and want a declaration that states they did not commit copyright infringement. Interestingly, the lawsuit seems to admit that some parts of the song may “mirror the words” of the poem, but still calls the song an original work. The lawsuit seems to focus on the fact that Jackson himself does not own the copyright on the lyrics in question.
Depp and Beck’s lawsuit refer to Bruce Jackson’s statements as a “shakedown” and a “publicity stunt.” Jackson never filed a lawsuit over the copyright issue but apparently was looking to make some sort of financial deal with Depp and Beck, where he planned to donate any money to organizations that committed to preserving African American culture and traditions.
It’s a potentially interesting case from a legal standpoint for the simple reason that it’s unclear exactly who, if anybody, would hold the copyright. It would seem the lyrics in question did exist prior to the song from Beck and Johnny Depp, but if there is somebody else who would hold the copyright, it’s not that easy to see who that would even be, as neither Jackson, nor the inmate who recounted the poem to him, claim to be the author.
Depending on where this particular lawsuit goes, Johnny Depp may have multiple legal issues being dealt with at once. His defamation case verdicts have been appealed, so he’s not quite done with that legal battle right now. While the amount Depp was ordered to pay Amber Heard was significantly less than she was ordered to pay, he appealed his side of the case after she did.
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