“Mere clichés”: Nickelback’s Rockstar copyright lawsuit win is confirmed as judges rule that the plaintiff is not the only one who can enjoy “singing about being a rockstar”

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Its lyrics might touch on multiple “clichés”, but Nickelback’s often-maligned 2005 song Rockstar did not infringe the copyright of Kirk Johnston, who with his band Snowblind Revival released a song called Rock Star.

That’s the verdict of three judges on a US Court of Appeals panel, who have upheld an earlier 2023 ruling that also came down in Nickelback’s favour. When this case was heard, the judge stated that, at times, Johnston’s case “borders on the absurd”.

According to Billboard, the appeals panel rejected Johnston’s claim that the two songs’ lyrical content is “strikingly similar” on the basis that both artists were simply exploring well-worn rockstar tropes.

“Johnston’s expert categorises the lyrics into common themes such as ‘making lots of money,’ ‘connections to famous people,’ and ‘references to sports’,” says the judgement, “but these broad categories are mere clichés of being a rockstar that are not unique to the rock genre. Singing about being a rockstar is not limited to Johnston.”

They may have enjoyed huge commercial success, but Nickelback have rarely been critical darlings. However, as lead singer Chad Kroeger told Total Guitar in 2012, they haven’t let the media sniping bother them.

“Anybody who is successful is going to get that,” he said. “I don’t sit there thinking, ‘I hope we win over all these f**king hipsters who hate everything.’ They hate their own parents.”

In a similar vein, lead guitarist Ryan Peake noted that he wasn’t worried about any perceived lack of respect.

“I’ve never really cared,” he said. “Even going back to the garage days, you want to do something that people get, but when we started playing, we didn’t do it to garner respect. We didn’t make albums to win awards.”

The appeals court judges also ruled that there was no evidence that any member of Nickelback had ever heard Snowblind Revival’s version of Rockstar. Unless Johnston now decides to take his case to the US Supreme Court, it seems that there are few legal options left open to him. 

Ben Rogerson

I’m the Deputy Editor of MusicRadar, having worked on the site since its launch in 2007. I previously spent eight years working on our sister magazine, Computer Music. I’ve been playing the piano, gigging in bands and failing to finish tracks at home for more than 30 years, 24 of which I’ve also spent writing about music and the ever-changing technology used to make it.