Nickelback Defeats Song-Theft Copyright Lawsuit Over ‘Rockstar’: ‘They Do Not Sound Alike’

A federal judge on Thursday dismissed a copyright lawsuit claiming Nickelback ripped off its 2006 hit “Rockstar” from an earlier song called “Rock Star.”

Adopting recommendations from a lower judge, U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman ruled that there was zero evidence that Chad Kroeger and the other members of the 2000s rock band ever heard Kirk Johnston’s earlier song – and that the two songs also just didn’t share much overlap.

“Stated simply, they do not sound alike,” the judge wrote in the order adopted Thursday. “Where both songs evoke similar themes, they are rendered dissimilar through the vivid detail of the original expression in Nickelback’s lyrics.”


Johnston, the lead singer of a Texas band called Snowblind Revival, claimed the two songs shared many closely-related lyrics, about rock star lifestyles, making huge amounts of money, and having famous friends. But Thursday’s ruling said that after a review of the lyrics, that accusation at times “borders on the absurd.”

“This includes, for example, any suggestion that the two baseball analogies in Nickelback’s work are evidence that the band copied Johnston’s lyric ‘might buy the Cowboys’ professional football team simply because both are ‘references to sports’,” Judge Pitman wrote.

The only real similarities between the two songs, the judge wrote, were basic cliches — “outlandish stereotypes and images associated with being a huge, famous, rock star” – that cannot be monopolized by any one songwriter.

The judge specifically pointed to a study that reported 17 other popular songs that had shared similar themes about rock stars, ranging from “So You Want To Be A Rock And Roll Star” by The Byrds in 1966 to “Rockstar” by Poison in 2001.


Attorneys for both sides did not immediately return requests for comment on the decision.

Released on Nickelback’s 2005 album All the Right Reasons, “Rockstar” has not aged well with critics. In 2008, the Guardian said the song “makes literally no sense and is the worst thing of all time.” In 2012, Buzzfeed listed it as the second-worst song ever written, citing it as an example of “why everyone hates Nickelback so much.” But the song was a commercial hit, eventually reaching No. 6 on the Hot 100 in September 2007 and ultimately spending nearly a year on the chart.

Johnston sued in May 2020, claiming the hit song had stolen “substantial portions” of his own “Rock Star,” including the “tempo, song form, melodic structure, harmonic structures, and lyrical themes.”

But in Thursday’s ruling, Judge Pitman said Johnson had failed to show that Nickelback had “access” to his song in order to copy it – a key requirement in any copyright lawsuit. He argued that his band Snowblind Revival had performed at the same venue as Nickelback, but the judge said that was not enough.

“Johnston has presented no probative evidence that defendants had a reasonable opportunity to hear plaintiff’s work.


Without proof that Kroeger or anyone else heard the song, Johnston would have needed to prove that the songs were almost identical – “strikingly similar” in copyright law parlance. And Judge Pitman said he fell very far short of that.

“The Court has conducted a side-by-side examination of the works, carefully listening to and considering all versions of the songs of record,” the judge wrote. “As an ‘ordinary listener,’ the court concludes that a layman would not consider the songs or even their ‘hooks’ to be strikingly similar.”

Bill Donahue