The Bee Gees have seen some tough audiences in their time, but none like the six-member jury they faced last month in Chicago federal court. The Brothers Gibb—Barry, 36, and twins Robin and Maurice, 33—were charged with copyright infringement by an unknown Illinois tunesmith. Ronald Selle, 36, claimed that How Deep Is Your Love, the Bee Gees’ 1977 hit from the Saturday Night Fever LP and film, couldn’t have been written without knowledge of Let It End, a song he copyrighted in 1975 for a $6 fee.
The jury, after five hours’ deliberation, agreed, and the Gibbs were stunned. “A lie,” snapped Robin. The suit cited parallels in 12 of How Deep’s 26 bars with Selle’s work. An expert attested to the tunes’ “striking similarity,” and Selle noted that of 14 tapes of Let It End he sent to record firms, only 11 were returned. The Gibbs said they created How Deep all by themselves in France in 1977. But then—shades of Watergate!—Selle’s attorney, Allen Engerman, played a tape from the French recording session that had a suspiciously silent 12-minute gap. Worse, on the stand Maurice Gibb mistook Selle’s work for How Deep.
While an assessment of damages is still to come—and a possible Bee Gees appeal—Selle was quick to hail his “victory for the little guy.” He studied music at the University of Illinois and plays keyboard with a trio at weddings and parties, but also supports his wife and three children by running an antiques shop in Crete, Ill. “I figured I had a 50-50 shot,” he says of the suit, “but I didn’t go into this for the money.”
He may come out of it with plenty, though. How Deep sold more than a million singles; the Fever LP is pop’s all-time monster at 30 million. Says Engerman: “The Gibbs’ lawyer told me, ‘Allen, if you win, there’ll be a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.’ The question is, how deep is the pot?”