How did they get away with it?


The Big O, looking forensically at the track listing of the Please Please Me album.

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.

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