Britney – copying is not plagiarism?

It’s impossible to own the copyright on a lyric concept. An immeasurable number of songs have been written about the songwriter’s favourite subject – romantic love – so it’s to be expected that from time to time lyrics feature similar ideas or even specific phrases. So when a well-known play on words appears in a song title – and in the main chorus hook – and then someone copies the lyric almost verbatim, there’s a dilemma for the listener, and perhaps for the songwriter.

Today’s example is Britney Spears’ song ‘Hold It Against Me‘, as contrasted with the Bellamy Brothers’ 1979 hit ‘If I Said You Had a Beautiful Body (Would You Hold It Against Me)’. It is doubtful here whether a copyright has been infringed (as the lyrics are referencing a cheesy chat-up line which pre-dates both works) but I think you’ll agree that anyone familiar with the Bellamy Bros’ song would recognise it in the Britney one. This just goes to show that the ‘philosophical’ definition of musical plagiarism is not always the same as the legal one…

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