Dismissal of Nickelback “Rockstar” copyright lawsuit upheld

The decision to dismiss a lawsuit alleging Nickelback committed copyright infringement with their song “Rockstar” has been upheld in federal appeals court, Billboard reports.

The suit was first filed in 2020 by Texas musician Kirk Johnston, who claimed that the ‘Back’s 2005 tune copied “substantial portions” of a song he wrote called “Rock Star.” In 2023, a U.S. district judge dismissed the case, ruling that Johnston’s claims “bordered on absurd.”

“Stated simply, they do not sound alike,” the ruling read. “Where both songs evoke similar themes, they are rendered dissimilar through the vivid detail of the original expression in Nickelback’s lyrics.”

The case then went to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which has now agreed with the lower court’s decision to dismiss.

“Johnston’s expert categorizes the lyrics into common themes such as ‘making lots of money,’ ‘connections to famous people,’ and ‘references to sports,'” the appellate court ruled. “But these broad categories are mere clichés of being a rockstar that are not unique to the rock genre. Singing about being a rockstar is not limited to Johnston.”

The ruling also states that Johnston did not adequately prove that the Nickelback members had heard his song before releasing their “Rockstar.”

“We are disappointed in the outcome,” a lawyer for Johnston tells Billboard. “We feel that the district court and the appellate court did not fully consider the context of the time period in which music was passed around when Mr. Johnston produced his original work.”

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