Stripes Face Possible Suit Over Song

updated 04/02/2003 at 12:00 AM EST

originally published 04/02/2003 11:28AM

Garage-rock band the White Stripes are getting rave reviews for their just-released album "Elephant," but some legal rumblings might put a damper on their celebration.

The duo could face a copyright-infringement suit over their song "The Union Forever," which purportedly borrows liberally from the classic 1941 Orson Welles film "Citizen Kane," reports Rolling Stone.

The song, from the band's 2001 "White Blood Cells," reportedly takes its title and most of its lyrics from a song in the movie, the thinly disguised examination of tyrannical newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst.

A spokesperson for Warner Bros., which owns the distribution rights to "Kane," told Rolling Stone -- which notes that the White Stripes' CD has sold more than 650,000 copies to date in the U.S. alone, which could conceivably make such a lawsuit worth serious money -- that the company is "reviewing the matter." (Warners, like PEOPLE, is a part of AOL Time Warner.)

While no mention of the film is made in the album's credits (which state, "All songs written and performed by the White Stripes"), Rolling Stone reports that frontman Jack White has been open about "The Union Forever"'s roots in the Welles movie, which the American Film Institute named the best movie of all time.

"There's a song in the film, 'It Can't Be Love, Because There Is No True Love' at a party they have in the Everglades," White told the magazine just before the release of "White Blood Cells." "I was trying to play it on guitar, and I went through the film and started writing down things that might rhyme and make sense together."

A spokesperson for the White Stripes had no comment about a possible lawsuit, but copyright attorney Sam Ibrahim tells Rolling Stone: "In the event that a court found infringement, Warner Bros. could get an injunction to stop future sales. The band could be found liable for millions of dollars in damages, and to keep selling (the album) they would have to pay a royalty. It could be in excess of three or four million dollars."

Meanwhile, in better news, the band's new album, "Elephant," released on Tuesday, is scoring good marks from the nation's critics.

Says the Washington Post: "On 'Elephant,' the band tiptoes the line between homage and innovation and concocts a knockout blues that will be ruining eardrums for years to come. "

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