Rock band System of a Down defeats royalties suit

Wed May 26, 2010 1:32am EDT
 
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By Eriq Gardner

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Los Angeles rock band System of a Down has won a legal battle over authorship of its Grammy-winning song "B.Y.O.B." after a judge heard about the drugs haze in which the tune was created.

The plaintiff in the case was Maxwell Music Limited, a U.K. music publishing company that claimed co-ownership in the hit song after being assigned rights to the works of Casey Chmielinski, who fronts the band Amen.

Chmielinski met System of a Down guitarist Daron Malakian when their respective bands were playing a music festival in Australia in January 2002. After a chance encounter between the two in Los Angeles later in the year, they started hanging out and using drugs. Malakian signed Chmielinski as the first artist to his record label, EatURMusic.

The relationship then cooled, and Malakian alleged that Chmielinski owed him money for advances for Amen recordings. Their last conversation in 2005 allegedly had to do with a 2% songwriters share for Chmielinski's contribution to "B.Y.O.B."

Chmielinski felt entitled to more, and in bringing the lawsuit, Maxwell Music was looking for a declaration of joint authorship. Both sides presented their own story about the "jamming" session in 2002 that led to the creation of the hit single.

New York District Court Judge Robert Sweet analyzed the music from the jam sessions and found that, other than the first line of the chorus, opening guitar riff and bridge section, no other portions appeared on the final version.

In his decision, Judge Sweet goes into detail about the process by which songwriters create songs and then inform their publishers about contributions to the authorship. He found fabrication in some evidence presented by Chmielinski, and ruled in the band's favor.