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A Brief History of John Fogerty Butting Heads With Copyright Law

The normally chill ex-Creedence Clearwater Revival frontman is upset about the film 'Proud Mary' using his song title, but did you ever hear about the time he got sued for ripping himself off?

Phil Witmer

Phil Witmer

Barring the still-righteous anger of "Fortunate Son" (a.k.a. the only cue film producers use to depict the Vietnam War), Creedence Clearwater Revival were the most chill of the classic counterculture dad-bands, with leader John Fogerty writing great songs largely about jamming with the boys, cruising on steamboats, and relaxing on the porch watching mythical creatures party it up in the mountains. Also, certain doom. Anyways, because of that history, Fogerty isn't really out here being a nuisance or a negative presence in any way. But never come after his music, or he will come after you.

Fogerty's ire is currently drawn to the Taraji P. Henson-starring crime thriller Proud Mary, which shares its name with the iconic CCR song. In a lengthy statement posted to his official Facebook page, Fogerty says the film's use of the song and alteration of his lyrics in its tagline ("killing for the man" instead of "working for the man") were done without his permission and its focus on violent assassinations is at odds with his original vision.

This movie has nothing to do with me, or my song. They simply picked the title and wrote a completely fictitious story around it. ... [The song] was obviously a metaphor about leaving painful, stressful things behind for a more tranquil and meaningful life. Far from a story about killing people for money.

Never mind that Proud Mary's 70s blaxploitation film nods (the Foxy Brown font used in the logo being one) means that the film is likely spiritually closer to Tina Turner, whose own reinterpretation of "Proud Mary" as a barnstorming, take-no-shit anthem is just as well-known as CCR's original version, if not more so. The same song can mean different things to different people, dude. That being said, there's nothing stopping someone from checking with a creator if they're going to remix their work.

This isn't the first time Fogerty has been riled by the supposed improper use of his music, though it's easier to be more sympathetic to his cause in the other cases. In 1985, Fogerty was sued by CCR's label (which still owned the publishing rights to the songs he had written and performed with the band) for making music that supposedly was too similar in sound to older CCR tracks. Essentially, as the punchline goes, John Fogerty was taken to court for ripping himself off. The case was eventually thrown out, but a very salty Fogerty still got away with taking musical shots at his ex-label boss. This Mental Floss article provides a good summary.

Fogerty also took jeans company Wrangler to task in the early 00s for using "Fortunate Son" in their ads, another result of having old CCR material in the hands of his ex-label. He's pursuing no such legal action for Proud Mary, according to a Stereogum report, but maybe he could watch it to understand why this particular song was used for this particular movie. Representatives for Fogerty and Screen Gems didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.

Phil is on Twitter.