Close to the Edge: investigating songwriting’s ‘plagiarism threshold’

Joe Bennett, Boston Conservatory at Berklee

[Presented at IASPM 2017, 26 June 2017]

Wicked.png

Stephen Schwartz’s score for ‘Wicked’ quotes 7 pitches from ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’… but does it infringe a copyright?

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”?

Download pdf of slides (or click image below)

Slides

References:

  • 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)
  • Schwartz, Stephen. 2004. Wicked’s Musical Themes Interview by Carol de Giere. http://www.musicalschwartz.com/wicked-musical-themes.htm.
  • Three Boys Music v. Michael Bolton 212 F.3d 477. 2000 477. 9th Cir.

 

Authenticity and the role of live musicians in hip hop production #arpOslo2014

Alex Stevenson, Leeds Metropolitan University

Author keywords:      ­Hip hop, Authenticity, Live, Sampling

EMU SP12/1200

EMU SP12/1200

Authenticity and the role of live musicians in hip hop production

ABSTRACT: Despite hip hop music’s origins as a live performance-based art form, utilising turntables and sound systems, the incorporation of digital sampling technologies gave rise to a sample-based aesthetic within hip hop production which traditionally rejected the use of live musicians. In his ethnographical study of hip hop production, Schloss goes as far as stating that as a hip hop producer ‘…it is the lack of samples – the use of live instrumentation – that must be justified’ (Schloss, 2004, p.67).

This sample-based aesthetic is strongly linked to the notion of authenticity within hip hop production (Schloss, 2004; Williams, 2010), however use of live musicians has been evident throughout the history of hip hop; from live hip hop band The Roots , the use of session musicians to re-play samples in Dr. Dre’s Chronic 2001 (1999) to the self-sampling approach of Portishead’s self titled album (1997). More recently in the UK, the formation of bands such as Introducing Live whose debut project in 2009 was to recreate note for note the entirety of DJ Shadow’s exclusively sample-based album Endtroducing (1996) with a 10-piece live band and the Abstract Hip Hop Orchestra who, inspired by Miguel Atwood-Ferguson orchestral tribute to J-Dilla (2010), perform live versions of classic hip hop tracks with a 16 piece ensemble, demonstrate the integral role that live musicians can occupy within hip hop performances that were once the reserve of the DJ and MC.

[Read more…]

IASPM 2014: Morals, Meaning and Money: Popular Musical Copying in the Age of Digital

Eminem’s favourite session players.

Adam Behr, University of East Anglia

ABSTRACT:

At the root of copyright’s legislative reach, and practical effects, is the matter of ‘copying’ itself – often referring to what may legitimately (morally or legally) be done with an apparently completed piece. Yet making music, and acquiring the skills to do so, is shot through with acts of copying, from straightforwardly learning a basic riff to the network of socially inflected influences in composition and multifarious technological means of manipulation, particularly in popular music, where criteria for entry to the field are relatively lightly codified. Likewise, as well disrupting longstanding distribution methods, digital technology has blurred the relationship between production, consumption and the ‘finished product’.

Musicians are central to an industry rhetoric in support of copyright protection that often relies upon conceptions of discrete works established in a pre-digital era. This paper explores popular musical practices themselves in the face of a rapidly evolving palette of creative possibilities. How do musicians regard digital techniques—like sampling—and their outputs against other long established forms of copying? At what point do they consider the implications of copyright for their practice?

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