What constitutes infringement?

Over the past few months, I’ve been amassing all of the Beatles albums and have been doing a bit of research about the songs and the time when they were written.

One thing that caught my eye shortly after I bought Abbey Road, was that I read Morris Levy filed a lawsuit against John Lennon because a line in “Come Together” was similar to a line in a Chuck Berry song (Levy was Berry’s music publisher). In “Come Together,” Lennon said, “Here come ol’ flattop, he come groovin’ up slowly” while in Berry’s song “You Can’t Catch Me,” has the line, “Here come up flattop, he was groovin’ up with me.”

Clearly, the lines are similar, but is Lennon’s use of a similar line infringement?

The case was settled out of court, which is quite sad, as this case could have further defined how much of a work has to be copied before it could be classified as infringement. I would love to read the documents that exist about this would-be case.

A few days ago, I picked up Rubber Soul, the last song on this album (which was released years before Abbey Road is called “Run For Your Life.” The first line of the song is I’d rather see you dead, little girl, than to be with another man” – John Lennon clearly admitted this line was lifted directly, 100% from an Elvis Presley song called “Baby, Let’s Play House.”

None of the research I’ve done states whether or not Elvis filed a lawsuit of any type due to this verbatim ripping of lyrics.

In order for something to be classed as infringement (and not an accidental use) is that the infringer had to have come across the original song and knew of it. Did Lennon know of the Chuck Berry song? I know for a fact that Lennon knew of the Elvis song because “Baby Let’s Play House” was part of The Quarrymen’s musical lineup. The Quarrymen was the name of The Beatles before they changed it.


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