Clapton, WMG Sued In Copyright Case

A relative of late blues artist Bo Carter has filed a federal copyright suit in Nashville alleging Eric Clapton, Warner Music Group and others lifted the melody of “Corrine, Corrina” and wrongly attributed the song to Lead Belly.  

Photo: John Davisson / Invision / AP
New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, Fairgrounds Racecourse, New Orleans, La.

The suit filed by Miles Floyd, Carter’s step-grandson, seeks more than $5 million from Clapton, WMG, songwriters, publishers and broadcasters for royalties received and failing to give Carter proper credit, according to the Tennessean. The song, licensed by Carter in 1929, has been covered widely in the almost 90 years since it was written, including by artists such as Dean Martin, Jerry Lee Lewis, Big Joe Turner, Brooks & Dunn, Merle Haggard, Bob Wills, Cab Calloway, Leo Kottke, Willie Nelson, Steppenwolf and Wynton Marsalis, among others.

“I didn’t realize how important it was until I started looking at it the last couple of years,” Floyd told the Tennessean. “This song is a well-known song. I was really surprised.” But it was Clapton’s inclusion of “Corrine, Corrina” on his 2013 re-release of Unplugged, in which the song is attributed to Lead Belly, that triggered the suit.

“This is a situation where you have the estate, the rightful owners of Bo’s intellectual property, just trying to get what’s rightfully theirs and get credit where credit is due,” Floyd attorney Barry Shrum told the Tennessean. “Bo created this song and started, in essence, a genre in music and influenced many performers in the future, and he deserves that credit.”

It’s not an open and shut case, according to some who study music and copyright. “Corrine, Corrina” has been covered so many times and in so many genres that variations on the melody has possibly thrown questions about its creation into a legal “gray area,” according to the paper.

Lead Belly covered a variation of the song as “Alberta Blues,” replacing “Corrine” with “Alberta.” And it’s possible that even though Carter copyrighted the song in 1929, it may have been in the public domain before then.

Also named in the suit are Sony/ATV Music Publishing, EMI Mills Music Inc., Rhino Entertainment, Viacom, Folkways Music Publishers, Hal Leanard LLC, and J.W. Pepper & Sons. Floyd reportedly sued Rod Stewart over “Corrine, Corinna” last year, but agreed to dismiss the case in November.