Saturday, December 06, 2008

Did Coldplay Plagiarize?

By Greg Kot | Tribune critic
December 6, 2008
A day after hauling in seven Grammy nominations, the members of Coldplay should've been celebrating. Instead they were served with a copyright infringement lawsuit Thursday that claims they ripped off guitarist Joe Satriani to write one of their biggest hits, "Viva La Vida."

The song, nominated Wednesday for song and record of the year by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, incorporates "substantial original portions" of Satriani's 2004 instrumental "If I Could Fly," according to the lawsuit filed in Los Angeles federal court.

(My aside.)
When I was a kid, Joe Satriani was one of my guitar HEROS. I wore OUT his album "Surfing with the Alien." I'm also a big Coldplay fan. A friend of mine here in the city has helped mix (or assisted the main mixer) on the last couple of their records. I'm trying to get him to let me in on one of their sessions (to be a fly on the wall) but I doubt that will be happening.

Anyways, here are the two tunes. You don't really need to listen to all of them to get why Satriani is a little miffed about the similarities. Me thinks Satriani just might have a case. But I don't know. What do you guys think? Here are the two tunes - listen for yourself and let me know what you think!

Coldplay, "Viva La Vida" (I LOVE this tune, btw.)

Satriani, "If I Could Fly" (The plagiarism starts at 50 seconds into the tune, or at least that would be my guess... Sounds similar to Coldplay's verse. Oh come on, who am I kidding. It's practically identical.)

(Big post on the music business and theft coming!)


Vitamin Z said...

It's so hard to know. As a guy who used to write songs for a living in Nashville it I remember writing a riff and then all of a sudden realizing it was a Whitney Houston song or something wack jack like that. It could be intentional or untentional and how to tell the difference in ones own mind is hard to figure out at times.

Coldplay should just write him a check to get him to shut up and go home. We all know they have plenty of bread.


Seth Ward said...

Yeah... it gets kind of sticky... Musicians are by nature a bit like musical fly paper.

However, the chord structure, melody and rhythmic patterns for the verse are pretty stunningly close... And it was the guitar player that came up with the motive and melody, from what I hear...

I think, from what I've heard, (one of my professors at Rice was called as an expert witness in a major Rap lawsuit!) if you can prove those three things, you've got a pretty good case. Even if it wasn't intended...

brody said...

Yeah... but the question still remains, who has the better video?

majorsteve said...

Seems like an open and shut case to me. I'm not a musician like you Seth, but in Satriani's at about 2:04 it just hit me like, "hey didn't I just listen to this song?" Up until then I was wondering what the big deal was. Now I figure if you transcribe about a minute of that part of the song I mentioned above on transparency and the same for Coldplay's song and then overlay them you can see that there are significantly long passages that are virtually identical. The only question remaining would be which one was written first. I doubt this plagarism is intentional.

Chaotic Hammer said...

As a couple other commenters noted, this is likely not intentional. Surely a group with so many hit songs is not going to release something for the whole world to hear, knowing that they shamelessly and deliberately stole it. Of course this may not even matter -- it depends on whether or not the law even takes "intent" into consideration.

I always wondered this about "musical inspiration". How can you be sure when you write something "new" that you're not replaying something that you heard previously, without even realizing it? I've played in a lot of bands where we would just jam freestyle (improvise), and it's interesting how often something sounds so good that you figure either the other musicians are channeling something they heard previously without realizing it, or they should be recording what they're doing, because it's incredibly inspired and could easily be the next big hit.

The thing I'd be interested in hearing, from someone schooled in the science of music (ahem, Seth) is whether anyone has ever tried to analyze and quantify all the possibilities in music mathematically. You know, like you have x number of musical notes to work with, and y number of possible combinations and chords, with z number of different rhythmic patterns, along with any other variations that can be included. Will there ever come a point, even in all eternity, where literally every song has been written? These are the kinds of things that keep me awake at night.

Seth Ward said...

Well, thankfully, no. However, it would seem so in modern pop music. It seems like someone in the Christian industry should at least paten rhyming love with above or dove and "paid my price" so people will start finding other ways to express that feeling.

For about two years Shania Twain was releasing songs that sounded exactly the same and no one seemed to notice.

Also, does anyone ever seem to notice that the "people need the lord" motive seems to turn up in about every single Baptist anthem???"

Historically, If Mozart were to have been living nowadays he would be sued every other day as composers back then often lifted melodies and motives and chord structures from one another like candy. However, back then it was considered flattery and most times the composer would credit the other composer from whom they ripped, but sometimes they wouldn't and it was still flattery.

In this case, I think it just sounds a little... fishy. The Satriani chorus and the Coldplay verse are strikingly similar. And Majorsteve brought up an excellent point about a juxtaposition comparison, a comparison that they will use in the court room. They will most likely use all three aspects to prove the plagiarism: Rhythm, harmony, and melodic contour and agogic accents and so forth.

I could easily prove the striking similarities using a couple of pieces of staff paper.

I imagine that Satriani wouldn't have as good of a case if he wasn't such a well known figure among guitar freaks. He taught many of the great guitar figures of the 80's and 90's including Steve Via and Slash. So even though he's outta style, he is still a well known artist.

Brody, ha... the Coldplay video is a tad spiffier, although I gotta tell ya... this Coldplay video isn't my fav. They've gone all low-budget on their videos lately, and even thought that's cool I guess... whatever happened to the greatness of The Scientist video???

Anyways, who knows? I guess they could get a hold of the guitar player's itunes library to see if the Satriani is on there...

Intentional or not, if it is close enough, Satriani will still get paid since his was written first. You can be convicted of plagiarism, even if it is unintentional. If it can happen to George Harrison, it can happen to anybody.

Susanne said...

I'm with Vitamin Z...they should just write the guy a check. This stuff happens all the time (most of the Top 40 stuff sounds alike to me), but this one is fishy. It was probably unintentional, but since he probably has a good case I think they'd do well to pay up.

Anonymous said...

And yet nobody sued Rihanna when she lifted nearly everything but the lyrics in SOS from Tainted Love by Soft Cell?

Jack said...

Listen up seth, Joe here is just a little upset that his song isn't quite as popular as viva la vida. I think he needs to get over it

MeR said...

i'm a coldplay obsessor. NOT GONNA LIE. im wearing a coldplay tshirt right now. I love them!
i love viva la vida and that whole cd. i dont think they sound THAT alike. i can recognize it though.
Cplay has a much better video, how did they do that btw? its like a moving painting.

coldplay is so classy you gotta love it. They just smiled and said "its a coincidence". LOVE THEM.

he who must not be named...Moe Batriani is just jealous cause coldplay is SOO much better and i've never heard of him AND coldplay made a GAHHZILLION bucks off this song AND hes mad cause he looks like professor Quill(who eventually is the other he-who-must-not-be-named)from the first harry potter.

I dont think they plagiarized.