Lionel Ritchie sells homes?

With thoughts of copyright swimming in my head, I drove home from school somewhat bleary-eyed from the long day. Imagine my surprise when I saw this realty sign! Now to you, this might mean nothing, but these lyrics are instantly recognizable to a certain generation of listeners-80s music lovers!

Have a listen.

Or is it? The original lyrical version is “Hello, is it me you’re looking for?” Here two little words have been cleverly changed. I can’t help but think this was the exact intention of the company. It certainly piqued my interest.

This brings up a more questions.

  • What if Lionel Ritchie took the realty company to court?
  • Does changing it to “Hello It’s me you’re looking for “make it substantially different?
  • Could he quote Cinar Corporation v Robinson 2013 SCC?
  • Do fair dealings apply? Parody?
  • Does using it for a commercial purpose extinguishes the ability to use fair dealings?
  • What if the judge was a 70s music lover and did not recognize the iconic 80s line?
  • Would he throw the case out?

Lionel, if you are reading this – Call me. “It’s me you are looking for.” I can help. Happy weekend all!

5 responses to “Lionel Ritchie sells homes?”

  1. zenracer

    Great questions. Some first reactions:

    Fair dealing could well apply. Parody, satire or even possibly education ( what do real estate agents do ? They “educate” people about houses???

    Fair dealing is never lost. It can always be tried.

    Yes there is a commercial purpose, but is this hurting Lionel Ritchie’s “market”?

    The lyric line is important but short. If it were trademarked, that would be a different argument, but from a coptight perspective is this a little like movie titles which we generally don’t allow copyright for.


  2. Doris

    Thank you for your comment. I agree whole heartedly it is a short one akin to a book title or movie title. But yet is it? I am reminded of your comment in class about copyright could be found with a few chords of Star Wars. Here there one line – a short series of words. But these words in combination with the memory of the music that accompanies it, makes it instantly recognizable, at least to me. Sadly I haven’t been able to get it out of my head all weekend!

  3. nehagupt

    Hi Doris,

    I think your post does a great job at highlighting the differences between copyright and trademark!

    In class, we have learned that copyright tends to protect creativity, whereas trademark is largely used to protect use.

    From a copyright perspective, I do not think Lionel Richie would have a strong case against the real estate agent. Just as Professor Festinger and you have pointed out, the real estate agent could argue for fair dealing, parody, or even education, in order to defend their use of the lyric. If not one of those three defences, the real estate agent could argue that the copying isn’t substantial enough to warrant a copyright infringement because Lionel Richie posed a question whereas the agent is making a statement.

    On the other hand, if Lionel Richie were to trademark this statement, then he would probably have a stronger case. It would probably not be any more successful than the copyright argument, but still stronger. Considering this is one of Lionel Richie’s most well-known songs, from a trademark perspective, it could be argued that the arrangement of the statement/song make it distinctively Lionel Richie’s, and thus has been infringed by the real estate agent.

    Also, after googling this song, it turns out that in 2017, Lionel Richie’s company, RichLion Holdings filed for a trade application for the phrase in question. Not sure what came of the application, but Sam Cao might want to find a new gimmick just in case.,pens%2C%20paperweights%2C%20and%20more.

  4. Doris

    Thank you for your comment Neha. Your argument is well thought out. Since we had not yet done trademarks in class I failed to mention them in the original post but your post got me thinking.

    You are correct in mentioning that Lionel filed a trademark application for “Hello is it me you’re looking for” on June 14 2016. However it has been denoted as abandoned as of February 24, 2020. It is further marked as ‘ no statement of use filed.’

    There is a data base that you can search in Canada to find out if your name or phrase has been trademarked.
    So far Sam Cao is safe. There is no trademark filed for “hello is it me you are looking for.”

    Thanks again,

  5. nehagupt

    Hello Doris,

    I didn’t know that!

    Thank you for the additional sources! I will definitely check them out!