Sometimes I am oblivious to the battles being fought by giants in my own backyard. I have just aware of a case that was disposed of in the Middle District of Tennessee involving Willa Dean Parker and the widow of Homer Banks suing, among others, Stevie Winwood, his brother, Muff Winwood (real name "Mervyn" – who knew?) and Spenser Davis over the alleged copyright infringement of the song "Ain't That a Lot of Love" by the Spenser Davis Group's "Gimme Some Lovin". There are a number of side issues in this case, as there often are, but the facts boil down to the following:
1. Willa Dean Parker and Homer Banks wrote "Ain't That a Lot of Love" in 1965.
2. The Spenser Davis Group created "Gimme Some Lovin" on April 5, 1966, and began recording it on June 9, 1966. And released it on October 28, 1966.
3. “Ain't That a Lot of Love” was first released in the United Kingdom by Homer Banks on October 7, 1966 (prior to the famous Sam and Dave version). Sam and Dave did not release their version of the song until 1968.
In order to prove copyright infringement of a musical composition, the burden is on the Plaintiff to prove that the Defendant had "access" to the work and that the two works are "substantially similar" enough to prove that the second work was copied from the first work. In this case, access seemed impossible to prove, since the Sam and Dave recording had not been released in England at the time the Spenser Davis Group created their iconic song.
It seems that Parker and Banks tried to circumvent this by proving that there was an earlier version of the song by David Porter which could have been heard in the United Kingdom. They also tried to introduce newspaper interviews by Spencer Davis, himself, where he allegedly admitted that "Gimme Some Lovin" was based on "Ain't That A Lot of Love". The court rejected the articles as inadmissible hearsay ("a statement, other than one made by the declarant while testifying at the trial or hearing offered in evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted"). Hence, with no proof of access , the Plaintiff's case was thrown out. There were other fascinating aspects of the case, - like the fact that Universal Music Group was sued as a Defendant, yet it actually had partial ownership of both songs in question and, hence, could not be sued for infringement under settled copyright law.
It's kind of a strange thing. I listen to the famous Sam and Dave recording of "Ain't That a Lot of Love" (as well as the Webb Wilder version) and don’t hear any real similarity to "Gimme Some Lovin". Then I listen to the Homer Banks' version and the famous riff is, in fact, nearly identical. I couldn't find the David Porter version of the song, but Taj Mahal's recording from 1968 utilizes the riff as well. I don’t know if experts were used in this case to prove that the riff itself could have come from an earlier source, as is often the case.
The part that I find sad is that this battle was taking place in 2017, 51 years after the records were first released. It reminds me of the dispute between the Estate of Randy California and Led Zeppelin over the song "Taurus". Why didn't the writers take action when the songs were new? In my cynical moments, I wonder if this is what has become of the music industry and that these type of lawsuits will continue until we have no surviving songwriters of the rock era, just estates suing other estates over ancient riffs.