Hans Zimmer Wins Copyright Case

After winning a recent copyright infringement case, famed composer Hans Zimmer has both his reputation back, and his legal status reaffirmed.

The movie score composer recently faced allegations that he did not have the right to profit from the soundtrack to 12 Years a Slave. The plaintiff in this case, Richard Friedman, sued Zimmer back in January of this year, claiming copyright infringement.

A guilty verdict in the case could have been a massive black mark on the relatively small and highly competitive world of film and TV soundtrack composers. Friedman writes for TV and felt Zimmer’s composition for the 12 Years movie was not his own.

Friedman said he was basing his case on the advice of a “music expert” who concluded the soundtrack was not original. The case was dismissed for lack of sufficient evidence.

In addition to the win in court, Zimmer also received an apology from Friedman, who says it was an honest mistake: “I sincerely apologize to you for bringing the lawsuit and for the time and expense you incurred in its defense…”

The letter of apology was icing on the cake for Zimmer, best known for his Oscar-winning score for “The Lion King.” In a prepared statement, Zimmer said he hopes his victory gives other composers the courage to fight for their property rights.

“I hope this case’s successful conclusion will persuade other artists who face similar claims that justice can be achieved… I also hope that this dismissal will discourage other plaintiffs who may be motivated by recent high-profile music copyright lawsuits from filing meritless infringement claims.”

The subtext in that second sentence underscores the issues Friedman will have now that his case was tossed out of court. As previously mentioned, the world the two composers move in tends to be very small. Careers are long and stakes are very high. Who you know and what they think about you matters a great deal. Making a claim such as this when there is no evidence to support such a claim is very damaging, both to a brand and to a career.

Of course, it can be very tempting. According to the Associated Press, the family of Marvin Gaye recently won $5 million in an infringement case against Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams. Still, there’s a lesson here. When you bring a case, you better be sure.

Jay Sekulow is the Chief Counsel for the American Center for Law & Justice.