Danielle Degelman

Music Copyright Law–A Few Examples…and Questions

Posted on: February 18, 2011

The ideas presented in RIP: A Remix Manifesto (2008) made me think about music copyright laws even further.  Even though there is controversy regarding Girl Talk’s production of illegal art and mashups, many other songs have been produced off of others’ ideas.  Here, listen to Miranda Lambert’s “Kerosene” (2005) and then compare it with Steve Earle’s “I Feel Alright” (1996). (Click on the songs to listen to them.) Sound similar? Even though the songs convey different lyrics and situations, Lambert used the same chord combinations that were originally put into Earle’s song.  Lambert admits, “I didn’t purposefully plagiarize his song—but unconsciously, I copied it almost exactly. I guess I’d listened to it so much that I just kind of had it in there”.

According to The Canadian Bar Association (2011), original musicians own copyright and have the right to control the copying of their music.  Other artists would need the label’s permission to use original music or words in their songs.  Take a listen to the following music.  The first songs listed behind each bullet have been known for “ripping off” an original piece of music (the second songs listed).  You may be surprised at some of the similarities you have not noticed before… (Again, click on the songs to listen to them.)

There are soooo many songs in this world, that people may not even realize they are infringing on another’s work.  This next video introduces Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” (1981)—a song we all know (I hope).  Journey’s four-chord progression on piano is played throughout the video, while other songs are sung while it plays on.  The 36 other musicians did not use Journey’s ideas intentionally.  In fact, these artists were unaware of their decisions, and they were surprised when they finally compared their songs to “Don’t Stop Believing”.

This video made me want to ask the following:

  • How can songwriters/artists/musicians/composers know that they are coming up with music that is completely new and fresh?  CAN they even know?
  • Isn’t it unfair to pay a fee if the artist had absolutely no intention of using another’s work? What if only very little of an original song was used unintentionally (i.e. a couple words, a line, or a few notes/chords from a well-known melody)? Where does one draw the line?
  • Are musicians actually running out of ideas? Are all the chord combinations being used up? Is the problem based on a “lack of ideas” or a “lack of creativity”?

Please post your thoughts here!

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