Below are the slides (with playable YouTube examples) from a recent lecture I gave to BA Commercial Music year 1 at Bath Spa.
The songs we discussed in the session are;
- My Sweet Lord (George Harrison)/He’s So Fine (Ronnie Mack) – copyright case, 1971 and 1976
- Live While We’re Young (One Direction, 2013) and Should I Stay or Should I Go (The Clash, 1982) – subjective similarity
- History of the Black Night riff – a ‘copyright orphan’ excerpt, following its history from George Gershwin in 1935 to Deep Purple in 1970 (and, some argue, to P!nk’s So What many years later)
- Bitter Sweet Symphony (The Verve, 1997) and The Last Time (The Rolling Stones, 1965) AND The Last Time (the Andrew Loog Oldham Orchestra, 1966).
We also talked about other famous examples, including the Puff Daddy Every Breath You Take sample, after which the students asked lots of questions relating to their own creative practice (mainly, “but why can’t I sample other songs?!” and “but really, why?”).
I’m in the process of writing up these examples into a formal research paper, which will discuss the issues relating to the privileging of melody in copyright disputes, and will be presenting a conference paper about melodic similarity at the PopMAC conference 2013 in Liverpool. Abstract here.
If the embed below doesn’t work for you, here’s a link to the Google presentation.
Speaks for itself, this one.
Here’s the 2010 Danny Baker interview when Rolf revealed that they had settled out of court after commissioning a musicologist’s report;
Here’s an advert soundalike track. They’ve even copied the Cuíca drum. Not a single note or chord is the same as Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard, of course. But the arrangement and production clearly references the Paul Simon original – and the casual listener is left in no doubt of the source. This is the challenge of soundalike works in music publishing – technically copyright can subsist in any part of a musical work, but it tends to be interpreted (in law and in the making of the work) as only being based around musical notes i.e. if it can’t be notated, it isn’t copyright.
Of course, it is impossible to own the copyright in a musical technique, whether it be strummed semiquavers on an acoustic guitar or a Cuica ‘laughing’ drum. But if the combination of musical decisions in the original work is unique (strummed 16 acoustic, Cuica drum coming in a few bars later, fingerboard muting over a 3-chord/2-bar loop, all at the unusually fast tempo of 210BPM), it’s fair to say that the soundalike track is referencing a specific work rather than just a musical style. And if this is the case, it’s presumably been done so that the casual listener will ‘recognise’ the original; thus, the copyist is benefiting (in this case commercially) from the endeavours of the original artist – without licensing the track or asking permission.
Disclaimer – I make these observations only as an interested academic and musician. There is, as far as I know, no copyright infringement case associated with these works, and if there is I am unconnected with it. But if anyone connected with the publishing of ‘Julio’ is reading this, I hope you go after them!
Here’s a reproduced image from a wonderful blog post at the always-interesting site http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/.
I’m putting a copy of the post up here to preserve it just in case the original post is taken down, but please do read the original.
In summary, the stats demonstrate that the decline of CD sales has not been replaced – in artists’ income terms – with the rise of digital. So artists were hugely better off in the age of physical CD sales. The original data (which includes some well-researched stats about songwriter royalties) can be found in this spreadsheet.
————- original post below ————–
Recently, the UK government passed The Digital Economy Act which included many, perhaps draconian, measures to combat online music piracy (including withdrawing broadband access for persistent pirates).
Much was proclaimed about how these new laws would protect musicians and artists revenueand livelihoods.
But how much money do musicians really get paid in this new digital marketplace?
This image is based on an excellent post at The Cynical Musician called The Paradise That Should Have Been about pitiful digital royalties. (Thanks to Neilon for pointing that out). I’ve taken his calculations and added a few more.
As ever, this was incredibly difficult to research. Industry figures are hard to get hold of. Some are even secret. Last.Fm’s royalty and payment system is beyond comprehension. (If you can explain it to me, please get in touch)
Note: these figures do not include publishing royalties (paid to composers of songs). The full spreadsheet of data does though. You can see all the numbers and sources here:http://bit.ly/DigitalRoyalty
Here’s a naughty songwriting steal from lawsuits past – Rod Stewart’s 1978 hit ‘Do You Think I’m Sexy?’ was proved to plagiarise the melody of Jorge Ben Jor’s 1972 hit ‘Taj Mahal’. Stewart agreed in settlement to pay all the royalties of the song to UNICEF.
The contentious melody excerpt can be found at 1:15 in the track. Thanks to the ever-musically-alert Richard J Parfitt for this – it was a new one on me.
Not all similar-sounding songs are copyright infringing – or are they? The new Alexandra Burke single ‘Start Without You’ has a chorus that is remarkably similar to the New Orleans/Creole Mardi Gras song ‘Iko Iko‘. The videos are below so you can judge for yourself (note the ‘Natasha’ 1980s cover is one of hundreds so is not the ‘definitive’ version – it was just the biggest UK hit version – personally I prefer the charm of the original 1960s Dixie Cups version).
The question is – why is this not an infringement? There are two reasons, I suggest. Firstly, despite the Dixie Cups successfully claiming authorship one could argue a case for the melody not being a copyright work – the DCs themselves mentioned in interview that their grandmother used to sing it to them (they were credited as composers in the absence of a prior composer being identified). Secondly, it uses musical ‘gestures’ from the melody rather than a significant number of identical notes. The chord pattern is identical, and the melody’s phrases often start on the same note and beat, but the actual notes, when compared like-for-like, are different. That said, if the Dixie Cups did want to contest this, I reckon Burke (…’s songwriters’ publishers’ lawyers) would have a hard time defending that melody…
Compare and contrast.
Lewis sued Parker for plagiarism on this one; they settled out of court and signed a confidentiality agreement (which Lewis broke in 2001, resulting in legal action by Parker). Listen for the E-D-A chord riff (the D and A chords being on beats 3 and 4 of the bar) that is characteristic of Ghostbusters and I Want a New Drug but also lots of other things, notably ‘Pop Musik’ by M (which in 1979 predated both tracks). Here’s the story of the 2001 legal action.
Anyway, here they are – judge for yourself.
You might have read recently about the Eddy Grant/Gorillaz case; Grant claims that the Gorillaz track Stylo bears a melodic resemblance to his 1982 song Time Warp.
Have a listen for yourself and see what you think, then vote in the poll at the bottom. The alleged similarity can be found at 0:42 (in Stylo) and 0:18 (in Time Warp).
I’m doing some work at the moment as a forensic musicologist for a copyright dispute case. Here are a few of my favourite contentious song infringements – some that were disputed successfully (and shouldn’t have been), and some that were never disputed (and should have been!).
- I Drove All Night (Steinberg/Kelly – recorded by Rob Orbison) – chorus melodic hook
- There’s a Place (The Beatles) – end of verse melody
- Beautiful Day (U2)
– 2nd chorus end melodic theme – descending perfect 5th over minor iii chord
- The Sun Always Shines on TV (Harket/Furuholmen/Waaktaar-Savoy)
- Start of chorus melodic theme
- Karma Police (Radiohead) – end of breakdown section; semitone drop in piano riff
- Sexy Sadie (The Beatles) – identical piano riff
- The Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony – main harmonic/string riff
- The Andrew Oldham recording of The Last Time – a straight sample, but hardly 100% of the IP in the publishing. Remarkable gamesmanship by ABKCO.
- Wikipedia page about the settlement
- Down Under (Men At Work) – intro flute riff, 2nd phrase
- Kookaburra (Marion Sinclair / Larrikin) – an astonishing judgement at 60% of the publishing (given that it’s from an instrumental section, and is actually Aeolian as opposed to the original major pentatonic phrase), and particularly contentious as it raises the question of whether a secondary hook is part of the ‘song’ in publishing terms.
Article about the case (Daily Telegraph)
I previously discussed the Satriani/Coldplay case in the Songwriting Festival blog.
And of course Salvatore Acquaviva’s 2005 case against Madonna continues to stimulate debate.
- Frozen (Leonard, Madonna) – intro
…bears embarrassingly little resemblance to
- Ma Vie Fout L’camp (Acquaviva) – first two bars of verse
The much-reported My Sweet Lord/He’s So Fine 1976 case is one of the earliest high-profile cases, and is discussed here.