NEW YORK — In a 26-page decision jammed with analyses of oscillations, arpeggios and descending tetra chords, a U.S. District Court judge has dismissed a $78.09 lawsuit brought by Andrew Lloyd Webber against a Baltimore-area songwriter whom Lloyd Webber claimed stole portions of the more famous composer’s “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” score.
In her decision filed Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Shirley Wohl Kram ruled that Lloyd Webber and his Really Useful Group “failed to establish” that Repp copied Lloyd Webber’s “Close Every Door” when Repp wrote a song called “Till You” in 1978. Kram concludes that although the two songs “share some musical devices,” such “tools are among the most common devices used in music.”
The bizarre lawsuit — $78.09 was the amount Lloyd Webber estimated Repp made from the licensing and sales of “Till You” — dates back to 1990. Repp initiated a suit claiming Lloyd Webber appropriated “Till You” in writing “Phantom Song” of “The Phantom of the Opera.” Lloyd Webber countersued, saying that the “Phantom” theme had actually been based on an earlier version of “Close Every Door” from his own “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” and that it was Repp who stole the music when he wrote “Till You.”
Indeed, Lloyd Webber won the first round of legal wrangling in 1994 when Kram dismissed Repp’s lawsuit before it could go to trial. But last June, when Repp petitioned to have Lloyd Webber’s countersuit dismissed, the same judge rejected his petition, and a four-day non-jury trial commenced on Sept. 16.
Musicological and lyrical analysis — both songs use “door” metaphors — presented at the trial failed to convince the judge that the songs are overly similar. In her decision, she wrote that “the thrust and ambiance of ‘Till You’ and ‘Close Every Door’ are entirely different.”
Lloyd Webber’s office claimed the judge’s decision as a victory of sorts. A statement released by a Lloyd Webber spokesman said “the decision clearly accomplishes Lloyd Webber’s goal of validating his authorship” of “Close Every Door” and the “Phantom Song.” “By successfully arguing that similarities in this melodic phrase do not constitute copying, Repp has shot himself in the foot on his ‘Phantom Song’ claim,” the statement said.
At the trial, Repp denied having heard “Close Every Door” until 1982, four years after he wrote “Till You.” Kram ruled that the court was given “no persuasive reason” to doubt Repp’s claim.
Repp, who composes and records popular liturgical music (“Till You” contained lyrics from the Book of Luke), told Daily Variety on Tuesday that the latest court decision frees him to appeal the dismissal of the original lawsuit against Lloyd Webber. “I am absolutely determined to go on with it,” he said.
Lloyd Webber and Really Useful are considering an appeal of the most recent decision.