June 6, 2022 Musicology 1 Comment

Go big or go home, I guess? Songwriter and performer Andy Stone is suing Mariah Carey and a co-writer for $20 Million because he might actually believe “All I Want For Christmas Is You” is an infringement of his own song by the same title released a few years prior.

I know, nobody wants to talk about Christmas music in June. And that’s okay, because we’ll be brief.

This is not even close.

You might ask, “How can Mariah Carey be sued thirty years after putting out this song?” And the answer is, “kinda like when Led Zeppelin got sued for Stairway To Heaven a few years ago.” Yes, there is a statute of limitations of three years, which means that once you know of a possible infringement, you have three years to file your claim. BUT… if the infringement is ongoing, your three-year clock is forever resetting to the latest infringement. So yes, Carey can still be sued, but the plaintiff is only suing her for the past three years of the imagined infringement, not thirty years. And that means, when damages are calculated, was this to get that far, which it won’t, then there would be a lookback of just three years of Carey’s earnings on it, plus, I suppose, the future. But it’s hypothetical because, again, this is just silly.

For the sake of argument, Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” was released in 1994, and it’s about as evergreen a Christmas song as has been recorded in my lifetime. And do not listen to it, even though I’m putting it up here. It’s June. Don’t do it.

Plaintiff Andy Stone, who goes or went by Vince Vance, wrote his own “All I Want For Christmas Is You” some years prior, and Vince Vance & The Valiants had a bit of a hit with it. Actually, I’ve been slightly surprised at the press coverage — nobody seems to have heard of him or this song. I do. In fact, it’s on the fairly short list of modern Christmas songs that I kinda like. I’d even say I prefer it to Mariah’s. And if you’ve never heard it, well, it’s still June, but if you want to know what we’re talking about here, maybe listen to a few bars.

I like this song, but in the hundred or so times I’ve heard it, it certainly never crossed my mind that Mariah’s was derived from it, and it never would. Musicology-wise, they simply don’t have anything in common other than their titles. Copyright law doesn’t protect ideas, titles, or short phrases, and it shouldn’t. The rest of the world needs to be able to go on using familiar phrases like “All I Want For Christmas Is…” as the basis for new works. There have been other songs written under the title “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” and there should and will be more over time.

There’s just nothing here.

Copyright law does protect expression, and these two expressions of what Vince and Mariah want for Christmas are entirely different. And regardless of what you read about lyrics, melodies, styles, or whatever, in reality these two works have dissimilar time signatures, melodies, lyrics, chords, and everything else that copyright concerns itself with. There’s is NOTHING, not a single thing, musicologically significant shared between these two songs.

Furthermore, Mariah Carey was probably THE biggest star in the world in 1994 when she put out “All I Want For Christmas.” The notion that she needed to (as the complaint puts it) “exploit the popularity and unique style” of Vince Vance is silly too.

This should go away. And quietly. And then I’ll go back to kinda enjoying the plaintiff’s song every year.

Written by Brian McBrearty