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Bellamy Brothers have something 'against' Britney Spears

The Bellamy Brothers, Howard, left, and David, say Britney Spears’ Hold It Against Me is lifted from their similarly titled 1979 hit.

Times (2006)

The Bellamy Brothers, Howard, left, and David, say Britney Spears’ Hold It Against Me is lifted from their similarly titled 1979 hit.

You can almost see the eyebrows rise and the cigar waggle: "If I said you have a beautiful body would you hold it against me?"

Dave Bellamy admits he borrowed the line from comedian Groucho Marx when he penned the 1979 song of the same name that became a signature hit for the Bellamy Brothers.

Now the country duo from Pasco County says Britney Spears and her songwriters "ripped off" the song they wrote two years before Brit-Brit was born and two years after Marx died. They seemed mildly annoyed last month when Spears' single Hold It Against Me was released, but on Tuesday, they let it be known that they're lawyered up.

"It becomes somewhat uncanny if you simply double the beat of the Bellamy Brothers' song and match it up with Britney's version," Nashville attorney Christopher E. Schmidt said in an e-mail. "Literally thousands of fans for both artists have also taken notice. They are scratching their heads questioning whether or not Britney's song 'lifted' part of the song previously written by David Bellamy."

Schmidt said the duo had hired Richard Busch, a copyright law heavyweight who won a multimillion lawsuit for rapper Eminem. More important, he also established new precedent when a federal appellate court upheld a ruling that said the use of a single word infringes on copyright if it's used in the same way it was in the original work.

The brothers couldn't be reached Tuesday. Neither could anyone from Spears' camp.

Schmidt noted that Spears merely performed the song, co-written by Lukasz Gottwald a.k.a. Dr. Luke, Max Martin and others. He said Dr. Luke and Martin had been accused of copyright infringement in several other cases, including Katy Perry's California Gurls, which is at the center of a claim by the Beach Boys.

"Although this is not conclusive evidence that Dr. Luke intentionally lifted a phrase from a Bellamy Brothers song, it certainly shows a possible pattern and warrants a more serious look into the matter," Schmidt said.

Schmidt said both songs have been sent to a "renowned musicologist" for analysis. "From here, it is just a matter of trying to work things out amicably with everyone involved," he said.

Zöe Lang, a local musicologist contacted by the Times, said the case would be a tough call.

"The thing is no matter what the expert musicologist says it will really come down to the judge and this gets into copyright law," said Lang, an assistant musicology professor at the University of South Florida. "That's an issue that is very complex."

After listening to both songs, Lang said the two have both similarities and differences.

"Both of the choruses do end with the (same) phrase," said Lang, who noted the same line was also used in a sketch on Monty Python's Flying Circus. "That seems to be the problem."

But musically, the songs are different; Bellamy's is in a major key while Spears' song is written in a minor key. They're both based around similar chord tones, she said, "but you only have seven chord tones in a scale."

University of Florida band director Jay Watkins, who once had to defend the use of the first two notes of the theme from Jaws, said he thinks the Spears camp might have a problem.

"Wow, that's almost exactly the same," he said of the lyrics. "They certainly borrowed from it if they didn't outright plagiarize it."

Lang said listeners today are accustomed to hearing cuts of earlier songs in new releases. Hip-hop culture popularized the concept as a way to pay tribute to an earlier work.

"The idea of music and copyright has been blurred for a while," she said. Add to that the availability of material online. "That's been the deception of the Internet, the fact that everything is open property."

Bellamy Brothers have something 'against' Britney Spears 02/22/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 23, 2011 9:47am]
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