Alexandra Burke’s ‘familiar’ new single

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…

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