Years after the release of Gears of War's "Mad World" trailer, featuring the Gary Jules version from Donnie Darko, the trope of somber, sad covers in trailers lives on. This week, it was The Last of Us Part 2's turn with a new TV ad featuring a cover of New Order's "True Faith," with vocals by Ellie actor Ashley Johnson. Whether or not the cover is a wholly new take on the song has been a subject of debate for the past day.
Shortly after the release of the TV spot, some Last of Us fans tried to see if there was a full version of the cover available. This led people to a 2011 cover of "True Faith" by Lotte Kestner. Kestner is the stage name singer/songwriter Anna-Lynne Williams, an established indie musician known also for her work with the groups Trespassers William, Ormonde, and The Chemical Brothers.
In a series of now-deleted tweets addressing Naughty Dog and Last of Us series director Neil Druckmann, Williams asserted that the TV ad used "a replica of [her] cover" and said she was "heartbroken" by the discovery. The ad came to her attention after Last of Us fans contacted her following its release. USgamer reached out to both Williams and Naughty Dog for comment. Neither responded prior to publication.
IGN's report on the matter, published before the tweets were deleted, notes that both the Lotte Kestner version and the Johnson-performed cover in the trailer feature a vocal section sans lyrics, a flourish that does not appear in the New Order original. This, according to Williams, is the similarity that indicates that her cover was replicated for the ad. Dozens replied to the tweets: some say they hope she'd get compensation or credit from Naughty Dog, others say they don't believe the covers are that similar, and several have chimed in (unhelpfully, and arguably abusively) to point out that "True Faith" is originally by New Order, which was never in question.
Even if the arrangements for the two covers were exactly the same, the chances of a successful legal claim against Naughty Dog or Sony would be slim. Most covers are classified as derivative works without new copyrightable authorship. As such, cover artists are more-or-less without recourse for protecting their particular arrangements, as artists Jonathan Coulton, Jordan Roseman, and Greg Laswell learned when the show Glee copied their covers far more egregiously.
Then, as now, the issue seems to be more one of courtesy and recognition than of a cover artist claiming rights they do not possess under the law. With Williams' tweets deleted, attention may fade around this The Last of Us Part 2 ad issue unless Naughty Dog comes forward to confirm it was inspired by the Lotte Kestner cover (a denial, in this instance, would seem to serve little purpose).
A detail that's been overlooked in other reports on the matter is that it's by no measure unreasonable for a musician to be protective of what they believe to be a replica of their work, even for a cover. Contracting musicians to create soundalikes of songs is a common, contentious practice in entertainment—see the prevalence of "temp scores" and subsequent clone tracks for films—and, quite regularly, covers are licensed instead of being copied.
Take, for instance, that Gary Jules version of "Mad World," which was already well-known by the time of Gears of War and has popped up in tons of places since, including a 2017 episode of Riverdale. You don't even need to look beyond Williams' covers: the Lotte Kestner cover of Beyoncé's "Halo" was selected for a scene in HBO's The Young Pope.