Joe Satriani Settles Copyright Suit Against Coldplay, and A Word On Settlement Technicalities
The AmLaw Daily reports:
When news broke Wednesday that guitar virtuoso Joe Satriani’s copyright suit against the band Coldplay had been settled, the Litigation Daily raced to Pacer to download the documents. After all, it’s not every day that a copyright dispute between an aging guitar god and one of the biggest rock bands on the planet settles. (Granted, it’s a bit of a stretch to call Coldplay a "rock" band.) But it turns out that the settlement is as opaque as a Coldplay lyrics sheet.
Satriani filed suit in December 2008, alleging that Coldplay’s monster hit of 2008, "Viva La Vida," ripped off "substantial, original portions" of his 2004 song "If I Could Fly." (To compare the two, scroll to the bottom of this RollingStone.com post.)
On Monday, Los Angeles federal district court judge Dean Pregerson issued an order dismissing Satriani’s suit. We were hard-pressed, however, to find details of the settlement between Satriani and the band in the judge’s one-page filing. The only nugget: Each side will cover its own costs and attorneys’ fees.
(YouTube also has an excellent analysis of the two songs by a guitar instructor.)
I must point out a technical note. The order for dismissal says:
Each party shall bear its own costs and attorney fees.
For those of you who can read English, you may be surprised to learn that the above language does not mean that each side will cover its own costs and attorney fees. Indeed, as part of the settlement, it’s possible that Coldplay agreed to pay all of Satriani’s costs and fees.
Here’s why: in actions for copyright infringement (like actions for patent infringement and employment discrimination), a plaintiff can recover, as part of their damages, the costs and attorney’s fees incurred in bringing the suit. In such a situation, once the trial was concluded favorably for the plaintiff, the plaintiff would submit a petition for fees to the court, after which the Court would evaluate the reasonableness of the fees and then award those fees which were appropriate.
In some cases, the parties settle the merits of the action, but expressly reserve the issue of costs and attorneys’ fees for the Court to decide, after which the case is over. All the language in the Satriani v. Coldplay cases means is that the parties have decided to resolve the costs and fees issue themselves, rather than letting the court rule on it. It’s likely Coldplay is indeed paying them, since otherwise Satrinani wouldn’t recover anything on balance after paying his attorneys.