Here is the abstract, with references, for the academic paper I presented at the IASPM 2017 conference in Kassel, Germany. At the moment it’s just abstract, slides and references. If it ever turns into a full paper I’ll upload it to this website with the rest.
Abstract: The songwriter Stephen Schwartz once described his ‘Unlimited Theme’ (from ‘Wicked’) as a musical joke, using as it does the first seven pitches from ‘Over The Rainbow’.Schwartz believed that by limiting the number of copied pitches, he was evading an accusation of plagiarism. Schwartz’s belief in a legally defined plagiarism threshold represents a common misconception among musicians; there is a similarly widespread myth that copyright law permits a specific number of seconds of audio sampling (this has explicitly been contradicted in US case law). But borrowing and adaptation is a common form of creativity, and there is a real risk that if creators misidentify the line between influence and plagiarism, they might either inhibit their own creative freedoms, or inadvertently infringe copyright. This paper discusses the mythical plagiarism threshold, using examples from copyright case law, interviews with creators, and comparative analysis of musically similar works to explore the question “how much is too much”?
Bridgeport Music, Inc. v. Dimension Films, 383 F.3d 390 (6th Cir. 2004)’. Harvard Law Review 118 (4): 1355–62. doi:10.2307/4093384.
Cronin, Charles Patrick Desmond. 2017. ‘Seeing Is Believing: The Ongoing Significance of Symbolic Representations of Musical Works in Copyright Infringement Disputes’. Social Science Research Network. https://papers.ssrn.com/abstract=2967590.
Demers, Joanna. 2006. Steal This Music – How Intellectual Property Law Affects Musical Creativity. Athens : University of Georgia Press,.
Grand Upright Music, Ltd v. Warner Bros. Records Inc., 780 F. Supp. 182 (S.D.N.Y. 1991)
This week I’m at the biannual conference of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music. Our hosts are the University of Kassel, Germany, and the conference features presenters from all over the world.
Our opening keynote speaker this morning is Robin James, whose academic work spans philosophy, pop music, sound studies, and feminism. One of the pleasing trends I’ve been seeing in academic conferences in recent years is the increased willingness of presenters (particularly younger scholars) to post their work online. Robin has generously shared not only her slides but the full text of the talk. The keynote goes into considerable depth, so I won’t attempt to summarise it here, other than to say how much I enjoyed Robin’s acrobatic thinking as she leapt gracefully from Pythagorean philosophy to big data, US neoliberalism, YOLO and Chill culture, and illustrated all of this with a brief musical analysis of Harry Styles’s Sign Of The Times (embedded below) and Beyoncé’s Lemonade.
Friends, musicians and soundmen (and women) – lend me your ears. Here are some Wayfair TV commercials in a playlist – let me know (Twitter @joebennettmusic) what songs you think they’re using as a template for the music. Disclosure – this is for academic research, not copyright/client work.
[Health warning – these ads have a level of cheesy catchiness that may be difficult to cure once acquired.]
You know that feeling when a song’s intro seems to trip up your ear, so that when the band comes in it sounds like the timing’s out? There are a few rock classics that play with our rhythmic ears in this way. When I first heard Led Zeppelin’s Rock And Roll I thought the drum intro featured several time signature changes, until I realised that it’s just four bars of 4/4 with three eighth-notes before the downbeat (to hear it ‘properly’, start counting 4/4 on the fourth drum hit – the downbeat is the first accent).
As mentioned in a previous post, the question of whether Led Zeppelin’s Stairway To Heaven (1971) copies a part of Spirit’s Taurus (1968) may soon be settled.
Representatives of the late Randy Wolfe (aka Randy California) are claiming that the four-bar introduction section of Stairway To Heaven copies a substantial part of his 1968 instrumental composition Taurus.
Judge Gary Klausner stated that a jury should be used, because the matter in question is necessarily subjective: “while it is true that a descending chromatic four-chord progression is a common convention that abounds in the music industry, the similarities here transcend this core structure […] What remains is a subjective assessment of the ‘concept and feel’ of two works”.
So let’s compare the works – how similar are they?
In the next couple of days I’ll post proper transcriptions of the two with audio and some discussion points. For now, here’s an interview I did yesterday with BBC Radio 5 live, discussing the songs with presenters Sarah Brett and Ore Oduba.