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ACUFF-ROSE MUSIC, INC. v. JOSTENS

December 10, 1997

ACUFF-ROSE MUSIC, INC., Plaintiff, against JOSTENS, INC., Defendant.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: CHIN

 CHIN, D.J.

 In 1990, the country western singer Aaron Tippin released a song entitled "You've Got to Stand for Something." It contained the line, "You've got to stand for something or you'll fall for anything." The song was a hit and rose to number five on the national country charts in February 1991.

 In December 1992, defendant Jostens, Inc. ("Jostens"), a company that produces and sells class rings, initiated an advertising campaign built on the theme, "If You Don't Stand for Something, You'll Fall for Anything." The campaign prominently featured this slogan in its promotional materials.

 In this case, plaintiff Acuff-Rose Music, Inc. ("Acuff-Rose"), the owner of the Tippin song, contends that Jostens has violated its copyright. Defendant Jostens denies that it copied the song and argues that the lyric in question is derived from an unprotectible cliche. Defendant further maintains that any use of the song constitutes fair use within the meaning of 17 U.S.C. ยง 107.

 Both sides moved for summary judgment, and oral argument was held on July 9, 1997. During the argument, the parties agreed that I should decide the case on the record submitted on the summary judgment motions, without a formal trial. (Tr. at 4-6, 29-30). I have now reviewed the record and considered the issues. The following are my findings of fact and conclusions of law pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a).

 THE FACTS

 A. The Tippin Song

 The song "You've Got to Stand for Something" was written by Aaron Tippin and Buddy Brock, and recorded by Tippin in 1990. Tippin and Brock assigned to Acuff-Rose all rights and interests in the song on October 10, 1988, and April 1, 1990, respectively. Acuff-Rose registered the composition's words and music with the U.S. Copyright Office on August 15, 1990, and remains the registered owner of the copyright to the Tippin song (Pl. Ex. 1).

 The composition "is built around the Theme Lyrics to tell the story of a father's advice to stand for principles." (Pl. Mem. at 2). Its lyrics are as follows:

 
Now Daddy didn't like trouble,
 
but if it came along
 
Everyone that knew him knew which side
 
he'd be on
 
He never was a hero, or this country's
 
shinin' light
 
But you could always find him standing up
 
For what he thought was right
 
He'd say you've got to stand for something
 
or you'll fall for anything
 
You've got to be your own man
 
not a puppet on a string
 
Never compromise what's right
 
and uphold your family name
 
You've got to stand for something
 
or you'll fall for anything
 
or owned a bigger house
 
If Daddy had done more givin' in or
 
a little more backing down
 
But we always had plenty
 
just living his advice
 
Whatever you do today you'll have to
 
sleep with tonight
 
(Refrain)
 
Now I know that things are ...

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