Sam Smith & Normani Can’t Recover $700K Legal Bill After Beating Copyright Lawsuit, Judge Says

Six months after Sam Smith and Normani beat a copyright lawsuit over their 2019 hit “Dancing With a Stranger,” a federal judge is refusing to force their accuser to reimburse their legal fees — a bill the stars say exceeded $700,000.

Smith and Normani have argued that they shouldn’t be forced to foot the huge bill they incurred fending off the “frivolous and unreasonable” lawsuit, which claimed the duo had copied a little-known 2015 song of the same name when they created “Dancing.”


While U.S. District Judge Wesley L. Hsu dismissed the lawsuit last year, he ruled Monday (Mar. 18) that the case was not so completely baseless as to warrant punishing the accuser with paying the stars’ massive legal bill.

“Plaintiff’s claims were neither frivolous nor objectively unreasonable,” the judge wrote, calling the lawsuit a “close and difficult case” on a “contentious area of copyright law.”

Attorneys for Smith and Normani had argued that the lawsuit was merely a “gamble,” filed against the stars with “hopes for a massive payout.” But Judge Hsu said Monday there was “no evidence” of such ill intent by the accusers.

The case was filed in 2022 by songwriters Jordan Vincent, Christopher Miranda and Rosco Banlaoi, who claimed that “Dancing” was “strikingly similar” to their 2015 same-named track. In their complaint, they said it was “beyond any real doubt” that the song had been copied.

But in September, Judge Hsu said it was, in fact, very much in doubt. Granting Smith and Normani’s motion for an immediate ruling ending the lawsuit, the judge said the songs simply were not similar — and he criticized the plaintiffs for manipulating them to make them appear more alike.

“Permitting copyright plaintiffs to prevail … by rotating chords, recalibrating the tempo, and altering the pitch of a defendant’s song so that it sounds more similar to the plaintiffs’ would lead courts to deem substantially similar two vastly dissimilar musical compositions,” the judge wrote at the time.

Unlike most forms of American litigation, winners in copyright lawsuits are often able to legally recover the money they spent on lawyers fighting the case. Judges grant such requests in cases where a lawsuit shouldn’t have been filed or was litigated too aggressively, and fee awards can serve as a powerful deterrent against future questionable lawsuits.

In an October motion seeking $732,202 in fees, attorneys for Smith and Normani argued that Vincent, Miranda and Banlaoi’s case had been exactly the kind of pointless lawsuit that needs to be deterred. They argued that the songwriters and their lawyers had used aggressive tactics to advance faulty copyright claims that would be bad for all musicians.

“Plaintiff sought to monopolize unprotectable elements that are common property to all,” Smith and Normani’s lawyers wrote at the time. “Claims like Plaintiff’s here threaten to cheat the public domain and curtail the creation of new works.”

But in Monday’s ruling, Judge Hsu was not persuaded. He called Smith and Normani’s arguments “generic reasoning” that would lead to many such awards in future copyright lawsuits.

“Yes, Plaintiff’s counsel aggressively litigated the case,” the judge wrote. “Plaintiff’s conduct in this litigation does not rise to the level that calls for deterrence.”

Judge Hsu did rule that Smith and Normani could recover their legal “costs” from the plaintiffs, but such awards are typically far smaller than awards of attorney’s fees. In earlier court filings, attorneys for Smith and Normani calculated such costs at $10,173.

Neither side’s attorneys immediately returned requests for comment on Tuesday (Mar. 19).

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