Johnny Depp and Jeff Beck are suing a professor and folklorist, Bruce Jackson, over his allegations the pair’s song ‘Sad Motherfuckin’ Parade’ plagiarises an old poem titled Hobo Ben.
Per Rolling Stone, Jackson accused Depp and Beck of pulling lines from the poem back in August, which he references in his 1974 book about toasts, Get Your Ass In The Water And Swim Like Me.
The lyrics to ‘Sad Motherfucking’ Parade’ and ‘Hobo Ben’ overlap a number of times, with the lines “I’m raggedy, I know, but I have no stink / God bless the lady that’ll buy me a drink,” and “What that funky motherfucker really needs, child, is a bath” appearing in both.
The poem doesn’t have an explicit author, but was told to Jackson by an inmate at Missouri State Penitentiary, named Slim Wilson. Neither Jackson nor Wilson were credited by Beck and Depp for the lyrics.
Following the accusations, a spokesperson for the pair said: “We are reviewing the inquiry relating to the song Sad Motherfuckin’ Parade on the 18 album by Jeff Beck and Johnny Depp. If appropriate, additional copyright credits will be added to all forms of the album.”
However, as reported by Rolling Stone, Depp and Beck have now filed a lawsuit against Jackson for unspecified damages, attorneys fees and a declaration that they have not committed copyright infringement. The pair’s suit states that Jackson “owns no copyrights in the words” to Hobo Ben, as there is no known author of the poem — and that he only owns copyrights for his own recordings and transcript of the toast, which they did not infringe.
Speaking to Rolling Stone in a statement, Jackson said: “They didn’t write a word of ‘Sad Motherfuckin’ Parade’ and they are suing the person they stole it from and who caught them doing it. From my point of view, this is like a burglar suing a homeowner because he cut his hand on the kitchen window he broke getting in.”
Jackson sent letters to the pair alleging that the “inflection, tonality and rhythm” of their song matched the recording Jackson made of Wilson performing the poem, and insinuated that the pair had sampled the recording to “construct portions of the vocal track”.
In response, Depp and Beck’s lawsuit acknowledges there may be some similarities between the poem and their ‘Sad Motherfuckin’ Parade’, but argues it is “an original work of authorship and creativity”.
The pair also accused Jackson’s allegations as being “part of an old-fashioned shakedown” but he told Rolling Stone that he had never made “any formal financial demands” of the duo.
Depp and Beck released their collaborative album ’18’ in July, after three years of recording.