From time to time, there are those copyright news items that just don’t seem to fit in the regular frame of a blog post for Velocity of Content. This intermittent series will consist of a single question on one of those topics du jour, and the collected responses of various regular contributors to CCC’s blog.
Lady Gaga has been threatened with a copyright infringement suit, over ‘Shallow’, her big hit from the film ‘A Star is Born’ (2018); Katy Perry recently lost in a jury trial on a similar issue. And so on … The reasoning in these copyright cases may be traced back to the outcome in the ‘Blurred Lines’ case (2015) in which Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams were held as liable for copying the beat and groove (?) from a 1977 Marvin Gaye track, ‘Got to Give It Up’. Those with long musical memories might trace it all back to the 1971 case in which the rights holders of “He’s So Fine” (1963) sued George Harrison for his similarly-sounding track – and monster hit — “My Sweet Lord.”
What’s your take on this trend in musical infringement suits?
Some Quick Takes from our Team:
When I was a lot younger and paid attention to things like interviews with rock musicians, a common question would be “who are your influences?” – which to be honest is a question I’ve used in when recruiting in my professional life – I think most people wouldn’t have a problem with that, because it’s how humans work. At the other end of the extreme, Leonard Cohen gets a songwriter credit on R.E.M.’s “Hope”, because it’s very closely related to his “Suzanne” – which again is the ‘right’ way of doing things.
What about the unconscious recreation of something similar because two composers follow the same tenets of musical theory? See Whigfield and “Saturday Night” versus Lindisfarne and “Fog on the Tyne”?
It might be dewy eyes and unrealistic of me, but it feels like this is a problem begging for a solution before getting to the level of ending up in court.
– Ian Synge
Rumor has it that, years ago, Lou Reed raised an infringement issue with members of the band, A Tribe Called Quest. They had apparently sampled the bass line from his track, “Take a Walk On The Wild Side” on their 1990 release of the single “Can I Kick It?” As one of the members of the Tribe Called Quest told Rolling Stone magazine– ““[The label] didn’t clear the sample. … It’s his art; it’s his work. He could have easily said No. There could have easily been no ‘Can I Kick It?’ So you take the good with the bad. And the good is, we didn’t get sued. We just didn’t get nothing from it.”
So yes, if you recorded a song in 1972 which became the basis of someone else’s hit recording in 1990, make your case. If, on the other hand, your 1972 song gets covered by a local bar band who is getting paid in pints, maybe just be happy people still care enough to want to play your music.
– Philip Rogers
Inevitably, there are social (or artistic) costs to the limitations of use copyright imposes. The artistic and cultural world is expanding rapidly as digital technology allows “anyone to be a creator” and equally makes it easy to create “mash-ups” from existing digital files. On top of that, the Internet permits massive, international consequential distribution of artistic works, leading to greater and greater scope for creativity, notoriety, renumeration and infringement. Musicians who create face the dual specter of being an infringer and being infringed upon.
A pre-permissioned approach, if a fair and workable one could be devised, might be worth trying.
– Andrew Campana
“I’m unhappy every time of these suits pop up, like they seem to do every day. I’m fine with going to the courts to rectify real infringements (or raids) upon the rights in original works from years gone by. But when vague sketchy claims are used to ‘game the system’ (of copyright), disincentives result to both creativity and creator. These undue influences on the creation and propagation of new works may prove bad for business, and bad for the listening public, over the long haul.
– Dave Davis