With ‘Girl on Fire,’ Did Alicia Keys infringe on someone else’s copyright?

There are probably quite a few fans of Alicia Keys here in Miami. For years, the singer has consistently impressed critics with her richly textured songwriting and deeply felt lyrics. Her recent single “Girl on Fire” has reached No. 12 on the Billboard charts and is being used in an ad for American Express.

However, that same single is the subject of a copyright infringement suit.

In 1962, Earl Shuman wrote a song called “Lonely Boy.” It achieved its greatest success when it was recorded by Eddie Holman, who called the song “Hey There Lonely Girl.”

In the middle of “Girl on Fire,” Keys sings what seem to be a few bars of “Hey There Lonely Girl.” This was first noted by an entertainment writer on the website Showbiz 411.

Shuman seems to have read that blog post and decided to file suit. Shuman’s lawsuit actually quotes the Showbiz 411 blog post extensively.

Now, it is not at all uncommon for modern artists to re-record past hits, or to borrow melodies, chord progressions and even snippets of old songs. However, they usually pay for the rights to use the past work and it seems in this case that Keys and her label, Sony, did not make that effort. Perhaps that is because they do not see “Girl on Fire” as borrowing from “Hey There Lonely Girl.”

Whether Shuman is successful remains to be seen. Listen to “Girl on Fire” here and “Hey There Lonely Girl” here and let us know in the comments if you think Keys borrowed too much of “Hey There Lonely Girl.”

Source: The Hollywood Reporter, “Alicia Keys sued over ‘Girl on Fire’: Is It Based on a Blogger’s Ear?” Eriq Gardner, Dec. 17, 2012