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Rolling Stones Escape Copyright Lawsuit Over 2020 Song ‘Living in a Ghost Town’ For Now

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A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit accusing The Rolling Stones members Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of copying their 2020 single “Living in a Ghost Town” from a pair of little-known songs, ruling that the case was clearly filed in the wrong court.

Filed in March by songwriter Sergio Garcia Fernandez (stage name Angelslang), the copyright infringement lawsuit claimed that Jagger and Richards “misappropriated many of the recognizable and key protected elements” from his 2006 song “So Sorry” as well as his 2007 tune “Seed of God.”

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But in a decision Wednesday (Oct. 18), Judge Eldon E. Fallon ruled that his Louisiana federal court lacked jurisdiction over Fernandez’s case. In doing so, he pointed out that Jagger and Richards are Brits, Fernandez lives in Spain, and The Rolling Stones have “only performed in New Orleans four times.”

“The mere fact that people in this district listen to the Rolling Stones or the alleged work does not permit this court to wield specific jurisdiction over the defendants,” Judge Fallon wrote in dismissing the case.

The judge only tossed the case “without prejudice” — meaning Fernandez is free to re-file the lawsuit in a more appropriate location. In the lead-up to Wednesday’s ruling, lawyers for The Rolling Stones argued that the case should have been filed somewhere in Europe.

In a statement to Billboard, Fernandez’s lawyer said he’s “disappointed and stunned by the court’s ruling.” But he vowed to “refile the lawsuit in a different venue in addition to reviewing other legal options.”

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Released at the peak of the COVID-19 shutdowns in April 2020, “Living in a Ghost Town” was the first original material released by the Stones since 2012. The song, a blues-rock tune with reggae influences accompanied by a COVID-themed video, reached No. 3 on the Hot Rock & Alternative Songs chart in May 2020.

In his lawsuit, Fernandez alleged that the new track was created by borrowing key features from his two earlier songs, including vocal melodies, chord progressions and other elements. “Defendants never paid plaintiff, nor secured the authorization for the use of ‘So Sorry’ and ‘Seed of God,’” his lawyers wrote at the time.

How would members of the iconic band have heard those songs, which have less than 1,000 spins on Spotify? Fernandez claims he gave a demo CD to “an immediate family member” of Jagger.

“The immediate family member … confirmed receipt … to the plaintiff via e-mail, and expressed that the musical works of the plaintiff and its style was a sound The Rolling Stones would be interested in using,” Fernandez’s lawyers wrote.

When the case was first filed, experts told Billboard that it was unlikely to succeed. Joe Bennett, a forensic musicologist and a professor at Berklee College of Music, said the songs shared only an overall vibe — based on mid-tempo rock grooves in the key of A minor — that’s been ubiquitous in rock and blues since the beginning.

“The Stones didn’t copy from Fernandez, because they didn’t need to,” Bennett said. “They’ve been playing grooves like this for a very long time, as have many others.”

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