Saul Zaentz died a few weeks ago at the age of 92. He will be remembered by many people as one of the founders of Fantasy Records, as well as a pioneering independent film producer (“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “The English Patient,” and “The Lord of the Rings”, among others).
And he brought Credence Clearwater Revival to the world.
Among legal scholars, he has a special place, due to his history of disputes with John Fogerty.
In one of the stranger courtroom battles of recent history, Zaentz sued Fogerty claiming his 1984 comeback hit “The Old Man Down the Road” infringed upon his own earlier composition “Run through the Jungle.” Think that through for a minute. Fogerty prevailed but had he not, we would have had a precedent in this country which would make songwriters liable for infringing upon themselves.
Fogerty’s next action against Zaentz had an even more profound impact. He sought reimbursement for his attorneys’ fees as the prevailing party in the litigation. Although the Copyright Act awards attorneys’ fees to the “prevailing party” in a copyright infringement action, up until that time, it had always been assumed that a defendant could only recover attorneys’ fees if the plaintiff’s action had been frivolous or filed in bad faith. Both the trial court and the court of appeals took this position. Fogerty appealed to the United States Supreme Court which ultimately ruled in his favor in a 9 – 0 decision, holding that the Copyright Act contained no such caveat on a prevailing party’s right to seek reimbursement of attorneys’ fees. It is widely believed that this important decision led to a marked decline in the number of copyright infringement lawsuits being filed since the risk of losing could make that party liable for the other party’s attorneys’ fees.
Interestingly enough, Fogerty and Zaentz were involved in at least one other major dispute. Record geeks know that the first pressing of Fogerty’s album “Centerfield” contained a song titled “Zanz Can’t Dance” about a larcenous pig (there’s even a video). Fogerty later changed the title to “Vanz Can’t Dance” but not before Saul Zaentz filed a $140 million defamation lawsuit against him. Wisely, that case was settled out of court but if it had proceeded to trial, would have made for an interesting transcript.
We owe John Fogerty a huge debt for standing up and taking a bold stance for artist’s rights and making at least two important contributions to copyright law.