Keys’ “Lonely Girl” clip in “Girl on Fire” sparks suit

Grammy award winning musician Alicia Keys is being sued over a single she released last fall called “Girl on Fire.” The song, from an album of the same name, is the subject of a copyright infringement dispute over the two-second insertion of a song that was popular more than 40 years ago.

The original song performed by Eddie Holman in 1970 was “Hey There Lonely Girl.” That tune came from music called “Lonely Boy” co-written by Earl Shuman. Shuman is the plaintiff in the California copyright infringement lawsuit against several defendants including the female singer-songwriter and Sony Music Entertainment.

Published reports say Shuman filed the legal action because Keys never credited “Lonely Girl” or its origin before the writing, production or distribution of “Girl on Fire.” Shuman apparently is not the only one who noticed Keys used “ingredients from past hits.”

The lawsuit was supplemented by a blog that pointed out the “Lonely Girl” connection in “Girl on Fire.” The blog’s author noted that grabbing a piece of the Eddie Holman hit helped “make” the Keys record.

“Girl on Fire” has been a successful single for Alicia Keys since its September release. The singer recently followed up the track with a video of another single from the album entitled “Brand New Me.”

The Alicia Keys lawsuit brings a significant question about copyrights to the forefront. How many notes or words can someone copy from another artist’s copyrighted work without being guilty of infringement?

According to the U.S. Copyright Act, no specific minimum or maximum number of notes, lines or words may be used without permission. It is not necessary for a listener to recognize the copyrighted piece before the law is violated.

The Act also notes that simply naming the source of borrowed material is unacceptable. Formal permission to use copyrighted music and likely a licensing fee are required before another artist may use the music.

Source:, “Alicia Keys releases ‘Brand New Me’ video, sued over ‘Girl on Fire’,” Kristina Lopez, Dec. 18, 2012