“Hard Sun” Lawsuit Judgment Favors EV

by Kathy Davis on April 12, 2010

As you may or may not know, reclusive Canadian songwriter Gordon Peterson, author of “Hard Sun” – which Eddie Vedder covered on his “Into The Wild” soundtrack – filed a copyright infringement lawsuit last year in New York Federal Court against our Pearl Jam singer,  Universal Music Publishing and related entities claiming Ed’s (miniscule) lyrical changes  in his verson of the song “altered key lyrics” and “eroded the integrity of the composition”, and further that Universal  failed to get Peterson’s permission to license the tune. You can see here more about the case that was fought.

When the suit was filed, Vedder’s lawyer Gregory Clarick told the New York Post:  “We don’t see any basis for a copyright infringement claim.” Well, guess what?  Friday, a Federal judge agreed with Mr. Clarick and found that the lyrical changes didn’t constitute a violation of copyright laws. The report from 1010WINS.com:

Judge Says Vedder Song Lyric Tinkering Probably Okay

NEW YORK (AP) — A federal judge in New York says Pearl Jam singer Eddie Vedder probably didn’t commit copyright infringement when he tinkered with the lyrics of the song “Hard Sun” while recording a version of it for the Sean Penn film “Into the Wild.”

The song’s Canadian composer, Gordon Peterson, sued Vedder and Universal Music Publishing in July, claiming his licensing deal barred anyone recording the work to change the lyrics without his permission.

But U.S. District Judge Richard Sullivan said during a Friday court session that the law does allow some lyric changes by people performing songs.

Other parts of the case deal with Peterson’s claim that his licensing deal prohibited the use of the song in films.

Okay,  I’m a PJ hardcore and I’m likely to defend them on all levels when my band is attacked, but that said, Peterson’s lawsuit is heinous. The guy had one album in 1989 under the band name Indio which featured this song. One. Album. It sold poorly. As a result of Ed’s success with Into The Wild, a Canadian label re-released the album.  Is this not a financial and creative benefit to the original songwriter? I know our singer to be a man of integrity and am sure he ensured financial credit was given where it was due when he included the song on the soundtrack.  Obviously there’s a lot I don’t know about what Mr. Peterson’s motivation in this legal action might be.

Rolling Stone.com pointed out last year the changes that Vedder made to the original:

A comparison of the two versions reveals very little difference between the two tracks. The opening verse and chorus are intact lyrically, but where Peterson wrote “When she comes to greet me / she is mercy at my feet / When I stay to pillage her / She just throws it back at me,” Vedder sings, “When she comes to greet me / she is mercy at my feet / I see her inner charm / she just throws it back at me.” Similar differences take place in the later verses, but for the most part Vedder sticks to the structure of the original.

Does one get the impression that Peterson’s pupils turned to dollar signs once “Into The Wild” sold well and Ed enjoyed such acclaim for it?  Mr. Peterson retired from the business after doing this one album, and I’m just speculating here, but…I mean…seriously…perhaps he’s just really protective of his one artistic endeavor.

The Universal Music Publishing segment of the lawsuit remains to be decided.


Kathy Davis ( Twitter: @CrookedArm23 )
A Bay-Area based entrepreneur, co-editor Kathy conceives and writes her share of TFT’s articles and sections. She was co-editor/co-founder of one of the first Pearl Jam fanzines "Footsteps" (1992-1997). Kathy’s first Pearl Jam show was at the Bridge School Benefit on November 1, 1992.

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