Sam Smith and Fifth Harmony’s Normani win copyright battle over ‘Dancing with a Stranger’

On the left, Sam Smith in an oversized jumper at the Barbie premiere. On the right, Normani stuns in a red dress.

Sam Smith and Fifth Harmony singer Normani have succeeded in a copyright infringement legal battle over their 2019 collaboration “Dancing with a Stranger”.

For much of 2023, it has been Smith’s super-queer, sexually provocative rollout of their album Gloria that has seen them hit the headlines amid pearl-clutching backlash.

But it’s an earlier single that has put the star at the centre of a real controversy. The track, which become a global hit and won numerous awards, was accused of being a rip-off of a 2015 song with a similar name.

In March 2022, Smith and Normani were both sued by songwriters Jordan Vincent, Christopher Miranda, and Rosco Banlaoi, who filed the complaint using a group name, Sound and Color, LLC.

The group alleged that Smith and Normani had unfairly profited from their collaboration, which they claimed had a “nearly identical” title, chorus and composition as Vincent’s song “Dancing with Strangers”.

“The hook/chorus in both songs – the most significant part and artistic aspect of the works – contain the lyrics ‘dancing with a stranger’ being sung over a nearly identical melody and musical composition,” the complaint read.

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Released in January 2019, Smith and Normani’s “Dancing with a Stranger” reached number three in the UK and seven in the US, where it spent 45 weeks on the chart.

In September last year, lawyers for Smith and Normani requested that the majority of the copyright lawsuit be thrown out, describing the claim as “nonsensical” and suggesting it “relies on hyperbole and ignores established circuit law”.

On Wednesday (6 September), California federal judge Wesley L. Hsu ruled that “most if not all” of the complainant’s professed similarities between the two songs were not protected by law, according to Rolling Stone.

Hsu declared that the words “dancing with a stranger” were not “unique enough” to be protected under copyright law. The judge pointed to some 20 references in other songs, such as Cyndi Lauper’s 1989 album track “Dancing with a Stranger”.

In the 18 months since the lawsuit was filed, fans have shared their opinions on the alleged similarities between the two songs.

On the music video for Vincent’s track, which has been on YouTube since 2017, one person commented: “This is a very good song, and I’m glad it’s getting noticed… but copyright infringement? Errr, no.”

Another said: “Nice song, but very different from Sam’s and Normani’s,” while a third wrote: “This one definitely sounds like a huge reach to me. The concept of the video looks a little familiar but the tempo, pitch, everything else… not at all similar.”

Smith is currently in South America, promoting their Gloria album with Gloria the Tour. 

In April, during the UK leg of the tour, the singer paid an emotional tribute to trans teenager Brianna Ghey, who was found dead in Warrington park two months earlier, by wearing a headpiece with her name written across it.

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