“Boyfriend v. Girlfriend”
On July 2, Tommy Dunbar, the former guitarist for the ’70s Bay Area power-pop band The Rubinoos, filed a lawsuit against Avril Lavigne in federal district court. Dunbar’s lawsuit alleges that Lavigne’s recent hit, “Girlfriend,” bears legally actionable similarity to the Rubinoos’ 1978 song, “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend.” Whether it meets standards for plagiarism is completely up for grabs, since the courts have affirmed cases that were far less airtight than “‘Boyfriend v. ‘Girlfriend.’”
Just to do a side-by-side comparison, I created a “‘Boyfriend v. ‘Girlfriend’” playlist in iTunes, copied the songs several times and played these two annoying and annoyingly similar tracks until I craved the sweet relief of a hard-drive failure. I am not a copyright lawyer, but I would play one on TV if given the opportunity. Plus, I’ve been obsessed with pop plagiarism since the case of “Bright Tunes Music v. Harrisongs Music,” which determined that George Harrison had subconsciously lifted the melody to “My Sweet Lord” from The Chiffons’ “He’s So Fine.”
I also personally enjoyed it when Huey Lewis raked Ray Parker Jr. over the coals for his appropriation of “I Want a New Drug” for the “Ghostbusters” theme. Given how irredeemably lame both songs are, it is hard to see how anybody really wins in that case. It is one thing to steal something brilliant, but co-opting “I Want a New Drug” for “Ghostbusters” is a little like trading in a Ford Pinto to buy an AMC Pacer.
So, I listened, then I listened some more before slamming the headphones on my desk and reaching the following conclusion: On its face, the only prominent similarity in “‘Boyfriend v. ‘Girlfriend’” comes during the choruses for the two songs. Rubinoos singer Jon Rubin sings “Hey (hey) you (you), I wanna be your boyfriend,” while Lavigne sings “Hey (hey) you (you) I don’t like your girlfriend.” They also feature the same handclapping rhythm, but I doubt that any judge would seriously have stadium pep-rally clapping entered into evidence.
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