Gwen Stefani & Pharrell Williams Accused of Copying ‘Spark the Fire’ Chorus
Among other things, the court will consider whether pronouncing “fire” as “fi-ya” is protectable by a copyright.
Few music lovers would draw a parallel between Gwen Stefani’s music and that of a band like Korn — but that’s exactly what a complaint filed Thursday in Colorado federal court seeks to do.
Richard Morrill is suing Stefani, her company Harajuku Lovers, Pharrell Williams and Interscope Records, claiming “Spark the Fire” infringes on his rights in a 1996 song called “Who’s Got My Lightah.” (He also created a derivative of his own work in 2009 called “Who’s Got My Lighter.”)
Morrill is a singer-songwriter who was formerly in the late ’80s funk metal band L.A.P.D. — which is now known as Korn — but in 1997 and 1998, he was a hairstylist in Huntington Beach.
He says Stefani, then the twenty-something lead singer for No Doubt, came into his salon. Morrill claims he played his song for Stefani while he was coloring and styling her hair, she liked it and he gave her a CD containing it.
Nearly two decades later, Morrill is claiming that Stefani and Williams copied the chorus from his song when writing “Spark the Fire.”
He says he discovered the infringement when his friend saw Stefani and Williams perform the song on The Voice in 2014 and sent him a link to a video of the show.
Morrill claims the lyrics to the chorus are substantially similar to his own. His attorney Alan Blakley describes the similarity as follows.
First, regarding Morrill’s 1996 song: “The lyrics of the chorus of ‘Who’s Got My Lightah’ were: ‘Who’s got my lightah? Going to find ya. Who’s got my lightah? I’m right behind ya. Who’s got my lightah? I’m going to find ya. Give it back, give it back.'”
Second, regarding Morrill’s 2009 derivative song: “The lyrics of the chorus of ‘Who’s Got My Lighter’ were: ‘Who’s got my lightah? Who got the fire? Who’s got my lightah? Who’s got my little lightah?’ Fire is pronounced ‘fi-ya.'”
Third, regarding the song by Stefani and Williams: “The lyrics to the chorus of ‘Spark the Fire’ are: ‘Who got the lighter? Let’s spark the fire. Who got the lighter? Let’s spark the fire.’ This is repeated once more. Fire is pronounced ‘fi-ya.'”
The suit also claims the rhythm, melody and background music in the chorus is “almost identical” to Morrill’s, and the songs are sung in the same key.
The chorus is first sung in Stefani’s song about 30 seconds into the video below.
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In Morrill’s L.A.P.D. song below, the chorus is first sung at about 58 seconds in.
Morrill is suing all the defendants for direct and contributory copyright infringement, Williams and Interscope for vicarious copyright infringement and Stefani for civil theft. He’s seeking damages, disgorgement of profits from the song, an injunction and a declaration that his copyrights were infringed. (Read the complaint in full here.)
Both Stefani and Williams declined to comment on the suit.
Williams and Robin Thicke are currently appealing the 2015 jury verdict against them in a copyright dispute with Marvin Gaye’s heirs “Blurred Lines.”