Selle v. Gibb
741 F.2d 896 (7th Cir. 1984)

  • Selle was a small-time musician who wrote a song and sent some demo tapes to various record label, but none of them offered to distribute his music. Later, a band called the Bee Gees recorded a very similar-sounding song. Selle sued for copyright infringement.
    • The Bee Gees argued that they never even heard Selle's song and they came up with his song all by themselves (aka independent creation).
  • The Trial Court found for the Bee Gees. Selle appealed.
  • The Appellate Court affirmed.
    • The Appellate Court found that there are two elements to establishing infringement:
      • There must be evidence that the defendant had access to the copyrighted work.
      • There must be evidence that the works are substantially similar.
    • Selle was unable to show any evidence that the Bee Gees ever had access to his song. The best he could show was an expert witness who said that the songs we so strikingly similar that there was no way they could have been written independent of each other. However, the Court found that wasn't enough.
      • The Court noted that if two works are so similar as to make it highly probable that the later one is a copy of the earlier one, the issue of access need not be addressed since if the later work was a copy its creator must have had access to the original.
  • Basically, this case said that if two works are almost identical, then there is no requirement that the copyright owner establish access.