Twenty years after Guy Hobbs first thought Elton John’s hit “Nikiti” was lyrically too similar to Hobbs’ poem “Natasha,” Hobbs’ sued John, Bernie Taupin and Big Pig Music in federal court for copyright infringement on April 26, 2012.
Both the song and poem tell a story of a cold-war romance. Hobbs’ poem, or he calls it his lyrics, was written in 1982 and registered for copyright in the UK in 1983. In 1984 Hobbs forwarded the poem “Natasha” to Big Pig Music, the music publishing company that represents Elton John and Bernie Taupin.
Elton John released “Nikita” in 1985 on the album “Ice and Fire.” Hobbs alleges he first discovered the release of “Nikiti” in 2001.
Whether or not Hobbs can prove infringement is not the primary issue in this case. Hobbs’ has admitted in his complaint he had actual knowledge in 2001 of the alleged infringement. Further, the defendants could easily imply Hobbs should have had knowledge in 1985 when John released the album “Ice and Fire.”
The defense should succeed in this case on their defenses of statute of limitations and laches. Hobbs simply waited too long to sue. The statute of limitations for copyright infringement is three years. Laches is a defense in common law created by judges, meaning not a law created by legislators, that says you can’t wait too long to sue.
There may also be some interesting procedural questions based on the fact that all the parties are residents of countries other than the United States.