UPDATE 1/29: Tom Petty has released a statement of his own, corroborating Smith’s statement of goodwill. He describes the entire episode as “a musical accident no more no less.” Full statement below.
UPDATE 1/26: Representatives for Smith released a statement acknowledging the settlement, but maintained the likeness is a “complete coincidence.” Full statement below.
“Stay With Me” is one of the standout tracks on Sam Smith’s platinum debut album In The Lonely Hour. Structurally, it prescribes to pop’s formula—big hook, little bridge, radio play. “Stay With Me” has sold over four million copies, and when the Grammy-nominated song started climbing the charts, fans were quick to point out some melodic similarities with Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down.”
Who cares, right? This happens every day. So as usual, Petty’s team took legal action, and Smith’s team—quietly settled?
Usually these kerfuffles get nasty—but this one was handled rather amicably. The settlement reportedly gives a 12.5% writing credit to both Petty and singer-composer Jeff Lynne. Both Lynne and Petty are now listed as chief songwriters alongside Smith in the song’s official Library of Congress record.
Smith was allegedly quick to dish out the royalties and squash the beef—the British pop star has already had to deal with his fair share of copyright insanity—just last week, actually.
Compare “Stay With Me” and “I Won’t Back Down” side-by-side below but rest easy knowing that copyright justice, as we currently define it, has been served this time around.
Sam Smith statement:
“Recently the publishers for the song I Won’t Back Down, written by Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne, contacted the publishers for Stay With Me, written by Sam Smith, James Napier and William Phillips, about similarities heard in the melodies of the choruses of the two compositions,” the statement said. “Not previously familiar with the 1989 Petty/Lynne song, the writers of Stay With Me listened to ‘I Won’t Back Down’ and acknowledged the similarity.”
“Although the likeness was a complete coincidence, all involved came to an immediate and amicable agreement in which Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne are now credited as co-writers of Stay With Me along with Sam Smith, James Napier and William Phillips.”
Tom Petty statement:
“About the Sam Smith thing. Let me say I have never had any hard feelings toward Sam. All my years of songwriting have shown me these things can happen. Most times you catch it before it gets out the studio door but in this case it got by. Sam’s people were very understanding of our predicament and we easily came to an agreement. The word lawsuit was never even said and was never my intention. And no more was to be said about it. How it got out to the press is beyond Sam or myself. Sam did the right thing and I have thought no more about this. A musical accident no more no less. In these times we live in this is hardly news. I wish Sam all the best for his ongoing career. Peace and love to all.”