Songwriters File Very Confident $20 Million Lawsuit Against Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want for Christmas Is You’

The writers of a 1989 song of the same name are not being very festive!

Songwriters File Very Confident $20 Million Lawsuit Against Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want for Christmas Is You’
Photo:James Devaney/CBS (Getty Images)

Everybody knows that Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” is derivative—it’s meant to evoke the girlish confections on the seminal holiday album A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector (specifically Darlene Love’s “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”). But someone else got a different memo. The writers of a 1989 country Christmas song, also called “All I Want for Christmas Is You”—released under the name Vince Vance & The Valiants—have sued Carey, collaborator Walter Afanasieff, Sony Music Entertainment, and others, claiming copyright infringement deriving from Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” which was released five years later. The plaintiffs are asking for $20 million among the requested damages.

The lawsuit of Andy Stone (who performs as Vince Vance) and Troy Powers alleges that “Carey’s ‘All I Want for Christmas Is You’ copies the plaintiffs’ “compositional structure of an extended comparison between a loved one and trappings of seasonal luxury, and further includes several of Plaintiffs’ lyrical phrases.” The complaint continues:

Beyond the lyrical hook “[a]ll I want for Christmas is you,” Defendants directly copy and include the exact lyrics “I don’t need . . . ” presents “underneath the Christmas tree.” Instead, like Plaintiffs’ original work, Carey implores Santa to “bring me the one thing I really need,” an unnamed “you,” to make their “wish come true.” In all, the infringed copyrighted lyrics account for approximately 50% of “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” The chord progression and melodic similarities push this percentage of infringement still higher.

It’s true that the songs have a conceptual similarity that goes something like: “I don’t want [X random Christmas signifier]; I want you.” (Lyrical sample from the 1989 song: “I don’t need sleigh rides in the snow/Don’t want a Christmas that’s blue/Take back the tinsel, stockings, and bows/‘Cause all I want for Christmas is you.”) But the use of ellipses in the complaint is flattering to Stone and Powers’ case (the line from Carey’s song is “I don’t need to hang my stocking/There upon the fireplace”; she doesn’t care about the presents underneath the Christmas tree). And, in fact, the lyrics of the 1989 song state, “Santa can’t bring me what I need/‘Cause all I want for Christmas is you,” whereas Carey evinces full faith in Santa’s abilities here: “Santa won’t you bring me/The one I really need?/Won’t you please bring my baby to me quickly?” They couldn’t be further ideologically than the North and South Poles.

Nitpicking aside, Stone and Powers claim a musical similarity, which, good luck:

Specifically, the songs share a similar syncopated chord pattern. Using the same harmonic language for the C and G and diminished C-6 chords throughout the two songs and that dulcet harmony directly lifted from Plaintiffs’ original.

The lawsuit assumes that, “Defendants undoubtedly had access to ‘All I Want for Christmas Is You’ prior to writing and releasing ‘All I Want for Christmas Is You’ given its wide commercial and cultural success, and that, “had Defendants listened to any country radio station in 1994, ‘All I Want for Christmas Is You’ likely would have played, charting in January 1994 on the Billboard Country 100 list, further informing Defendants of Plaintiffs’ copyrighted work.” That year, the 1989 “All” peaked at No. 55 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart (at least according to Wikipedia), which is far from denoting ubiquity (it’s a low peak on a niche chart).

Stone and Powers filed their suit Wednesday, November 1, a year to the day after Stone filed to dismiss his first suit against Carey (which he filed earlier in 2022 without his songwriting partner). Upon the dismissal of the first suit, the BBC noted that there were 177 songs with the title “All I Want for Christmas Is You” registered with the U.S. Copyright Office, and Billboard reported that several of these predated Stone and Powers’ song.

“The only similarity he claims is in the title of the song, not the music or lyrics,” music litigator Paul Fakler told Billboard last year. “Words and short phrases are not protectable under copyright law, and there are dozens of other songs with that same title.”

Well, now Stone is claiming a little bit more. But his strongest case, to my ears, is about the conceptual similarity between the two songs. And that, I think, is not a particularly strong case overall. If conceptual closeness were an actionable offense in Christmas music—which, while vast in content contains limited subject matter like Santa, presents, Baby Jesus, and good cheer—writers would be suing each other left and right, making Christmas even more of a capitalistic endeavor than it already is. So far that hasn’t happened.

Us Weekly notes that Stone and Powers’ lawyer is Gerard P. Fox, who represented songwriters Sean Hall and Nathan Butler in their copyright suit against Taylor Swift over “Shake It Off.” Last year, that case was dismissed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin