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The Time John Fogerty Was Sued for Ripping Off John Fogerty

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Henry Diltz/CORBIS

In 1993, former Creedence Clearwater Revival singer John Fogerty found himself at the center of a case being argued before the United States Supreme Court. The country’s highest court wasn’t debating whether Bayou Country or Green River was the superior CCR album. Instead, Fogerty was in the middle of an important, somewhat obscure corner of copyright law.

The seeds for Fogerty’s day in court traced back 23 years to 1970. That April, CCR released the Fogerty-penned “Run Through the Jungle” as a single that would eventually be certified gold by the RIAA. “Run Through the Jungle” is a solid tune, but it didn’t really grab headlines until 1985 when Fogerty released a solo track called “The Old Man Down the Road.”

“The Old Man Down the Road” is a pretty nice song, too; it even cracked the top 10 on the singles charts. One person wasn’t a fan, though. Saul Zaentz, who owned CCR’s old label Fantasy Records, also owned the copyright to “Run Through the Jungle.” Zaentz felt that “The Old Man Down the Road” was simply “Run Through the Jungle” with different words. In other words, John Fogerty had plagiarized a John Fogerty song to which he didn’t own the copyright.

Zaentz felt he had a case, so he sued Forgerty in federal court for copyright infringement.

(It’s worth noting that Zaentz and Fogerty weren’t on the best of terms in the first place. The same 1985 album that featured “The Old Man Down the Road,” Centerfield, also included the tracks “Mr. Greed” and “Zanz Kant Danz.” Critics and fans saw these songs as pointed attacks on Zaentz, and the label head initiated a separate $144 million defamation lawsuit that claimed Fogerty portrayed him as “a thief, robber, adulterer, and murderer.” The two sides settled that suit out of court.)

Defamation aside, was there any merit to the copyright claims? Have a listen and decide for yourself:

"Run Through the Jungle"

“The Old Man Down the Road”

The case ended up before a jury in Federal District Court in San Francisco in late 1988. The two-week trial featured Fogerty taking the witness stand with guitar in hand to explain that yes, the two songs may have sounded somewhat similar, but they were both variations on his signature “swamp rock” style. Simply put, of course two John Fogerty songs sounded the same.

This logic seemed pretty sound to the jury. It only took two hours of deliberation for the jury to determine that the two songs didn’t meet the legal standard of being “substantially similar” that would have constituted copyright infringement. The Fogerty camp let out a collective “huzzah!”

Encore!

The real legal action was just warming up, though. Since Fogerty had successfully defended himself against Fantasy Records’ suit, he sought reimbursement for his attorney’s fees. No dice. If the plaintiff, Fantasy, had been successful in its suit against Fogerty, the label would have been able to seek its lawyer fees from the musician. Since Fogerty had been a prevailing defendant, though, the court ruled that he could only seek fees if he could show that Fantasy’s suit was frivolous or had been made in bad faith. Fantasy’s suit may not have panned out, but it didn’t fit those criteria.

This decision put Fogerty in a sticky spot. Sure, he had won the case, but he was on the hook for $1.09 million in fees for his attorneys and those of his current label, Warner Brothers. Fogerty and his team didn’t think this arrangement was very fair, so they appealed the decision. In 1993 the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit shot down that appeal, though, on the same grounds—the original suit had been neither frivolous nor brought in bad faith.

After that failed appeal, Fogerty v. Fantasy – which would be an awesome title for a Fogerty concept record about battling elves, by the way – ended up in front of the Supreme Court. Fogerty’s camp made the same argument: that it made no sense to have a dual standard for plaintiffs and defendants seeking reimbursement for lawyer fees under the Copyright Act of 1976.

In March 1994, the Supreme Court issued a 9-to-0 decision in favor of Fogerty. Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist wrote that there was nothing in the Copyright Act of 1976 that implied that Congress wanted anything other than a level playing field when it came to awarding attorney’s fees to the prevailing party. (Rehnquist also hinted at a bit of Creedence fandom, writing that CCR "has been recognized as one of the greatest American rock and roll groups of all time.")

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8 Laws Way Past Their Prime
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It took a few centuries, but Canada is finally allowing sorcery again. In June 2017, an updated justice bill was submitted for approval that seeks to lift prohibitions on things that are no longer relevant to 21st century citizens, like dueling (fine provided it’s nonviolent), practicing witchcraft (knock yourself out), or mocking religion (possibly tasteless, but free speech is free speech).

With Canadians getting more progressive in their thinking, it might be time to look at a few other laws that once served a purpose but have now been rendered obsolete by common sense. Here are eight codes that are overdue for an overturn.

1. NO WARMING UP YOUR CAR // IOWA

In 1913, Iowa responded to the burgeoning motor vehicle industry by declaring it illegal to leave a running car unattended. The likely thinking was that the law would prevent thieves from making off with a brand-new Model T. Over 100 years later, it’s devolved into being a total nuisance. Iowans battling cold winters often start their cars with remote starters to get them warm enough to enter, making lawbreakers of virtually everyone heading for work on a cold Midwestern morning. While it’s still on the books, police in Des Moines told WHOTV.com in early 2017 that they don’t have the manpower or inclination to enforce it.

2. MINORS CAN’T PLAY PINBALL // SOUTH CAROLINA

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From the 1940s through the 1970s, several major U.S. cities had a bone to pick with pinball. The analog arcade game was perceived as a form of gambling, with lawmakers worried that juveniles could be driven to skip school and steal pocket change in order to feed their addiction. Pro-pinball constituents argued it was a game of skill rather than chance, and many areas relaxed their stance. But not South Carolina. To this day, it remains illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to draw the plunger and engage in a game. A bill seeking to repeal this minor infraction is currently under review.

3. A BAN ON SHACKING UP // MICHIGAN

Do you dream of living in Michigan? Do you also plan on cohabitating with your unwed partner in a lewd and lascivious manner? You’d better think twice, unless you like the sound of a $1000 fine and a year in jail. A long-outdated law is still active in Michigan that makes it a misdemeanor for unmarried couples to live together. While it’s not enforced—perhaps authorities would have to catch you in the act—it’s still an active prohibition, and one that has been repeatedly introduced for repeal over the years.

4. VENEREAL DISEASE DISCRIMINATION // NEW JERSEY

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With the best interests of the public in mind, New Jersey once decreed that they would place limitations on where people with venereal diseases could live and work. This likely stemmed from a more primitive understanding of how diseases like syphilis could be spread. Despite more advanced thinking, the law survived multiple attempts by the state’s Law Revision Commission to be repealed before it was finally dismissed in late 2014. The bill also struck down a ban on detaining homing pigeons, if you’re into that sort of thing.

5. THE HIGHLY LENIENT CHILD-ABANDONMENT LAW // NEBRASKA

Intended to provide for parents wishing to abandon their infant children without criminal reprimand, Nebraska’s “safe haven” law became something of a national outrage in 2008, when it was publicized that a number of people had dropped off children as old as 17 at area hospitals. Just before the law was repealed to set a strict age limit to infants 30 days old or younger, CNN.com reported that a man flew in from Florida to take advantage of the law and deposited his teenage son in the state.

6. THE FOOTLOOSE LAW // NEW YORK CITY

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In the 1920s, New York City passed a law that prohibited patrons from dancing in nightclubs or other businesses that failed to obtain a cabaret license from the city. The idea was to enforce Prohibition through indirect means, but the law managed to survive throughout the decades while alternately being enforced, ignored, or mocked. Despite a consistent outcry from artist advocacy groups, it's still in effect.

7. REGULATING POSSESSION OF ADULT TOYS // TEXAS

While Texas may be generous when it comes to owning, carrying, and shooting firearms, lawmakers took a more conservative approach to regulating sex toys—specifically, owning too many of them. Texas law stipulates that no one shall own or "promote" more than six "obscene devices." The law, enacted in 1973 during the height of anti-obscenity legislation, is believed to be directed at entertainment or stage performers and may allow for exemptions if the toys are for medical or law enforcement purposes.

8. STRICT HALLOWEEN PROTOCOL // REHOBOTH BEACH, DELAWARE

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You think Halloween is about having fun? It can be—provided you adhere to the strict protocol of Rehoboth Beach, which doesn’t tolerate even a single millisecond of mischief. To help keep kids and their candy bags moving along, the town allows just a small window of trick-or-treating: Parents and kids under 14 can only knock on doors from 6 to 8 p.m. Halloween night and no later. Don’t like it? If Halloween falls on a Sunday, then you don’t get to go that day at all—the festivities, such as they are, are rescheduled to the day prior.

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The Reason Police Officers Tap Your Taillight When They Pull You Over
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Asking a driver for their license and registration is common procedure from police officers during traffic stops. There’s another practice that was once standard across the force but is more of a mystery to the people being pulled over: While approaching a driver’s window, officers will sometimes touch a car's taillight. It's a behavior that dates back decades, though there's no reason to be concerned if it happens at your next traffic stop.

Before cameras were installed on the dashboards of most police cars, tapping the taillight was an inconspicuous way for officers to leave behind evidence of the encounter, according to The Law Dictionary. If something were to happen to the officer during the traffic stop, their interaction with the driver could be traced back to the fingerprints left on the vehicle. This would help other police officers track down a missing member of the force even without video proof of a crime.

The action also started as a way for officers to spook drivers before reaching their window. A pulled-over motorist with a car full of illegal drugs or weapons might scramble to hide any incriminating materials before the officer arrives. The surprise of hearing a knock on their taillight might disrupt this process, increasing their likelihood of getting caught.

Today the risks of this strategy are thought to outweigh the benefits. Touching a taillight poses an unnecessary distraction for officers, not to mention it can give away their position, making them more vulnerable to foul play. And with dash cams now standard in most squad cars, documenting each incident with fingerprints isn’t as necessary as it once was. It’s for these reasons that some police agencies now discourage taillight tapping. But if you see it at your next traffic stop, that doesn’t mean the officer is extra suspicious of you—just that it’s a hard habit to break.

[h/t The Law Dictionary]

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