After a fan told her she should see the movie, Washington folk singer Esther Mae (Mother) Scott went to view "Nashville" in 1975.
When one of the stars, Henry Gibson, sang to an ailing female singer in the film that she should "Keep A Goin," Mother Scott later recalled, "I hollered, "That's my song." I wrote that song." She sued the movie companies that produced the film, saying they had infringed upon her common law copyright interest when they included the tune.
U.S. District Judge Barrington D. Parker disagreed yesterday, saying there was no proof that Gibson and co-composer Richard Baskin were aware of Scott's version of the tune set to the words of an 1800s poem.
"The undisputed facts point to independent development of the two songs and the exhibits show a basic rather than a striking similarity," Parker said in a brief opinion.
Parker issued his ruling on the basis of an extensive file that demonstrated the chord progressions of "Keep A Goin'" as similar to any number of tunes, such as "Devil Woman" and "Paper Roses," and testimony by Scott and Gibson and others.
There was no trial in the case, but the parties were interviewed under oath by attorneys. These pretrial depositions, in Scott's case, included her singing several tunes to explain her singing style.
She also provide a colorful history of her life, including her description of "singing gigs and having a good time with Bessie Smith, Leadbelly and Louis Armstrong" in New Orleans in the early 1900s.
The 85 year old singer said she wrote a tune to the poem "Keep A Goin'" written by former Georgia poet laureate Frank L. Stanton, to celebrate her 80th birthday. Gibson said he had been using the poem for more than a decade, and decided to set it to music to illustrate his role of Haven Hamilton in "Nashville."
The words were in the public domain, Judge Parker said, and the song "was developed independently by Gibson and Baskin from the same common source in the public domain used by" Scott.
"A copyright is not violated because a second work is similar when the two works stem from a common source," Parker said in dismissing the suit.