Saturday, December 06, 2008

Okay... Coldplay Plagiarism, part 2

So check it out...

Someone took the idea we talked about here in my last blog and ran with it...

Now, when the story broke, my blog was one of the only ones that showed up besides the original article on google. The people JUST constructed this little experiment. PLAGIARISM I TELL YOU!!!!

This is pretty cool.


Becky said...

COOL! Man, that is a great song. (Well ... songs.)

Coldplays version sounds even better with those guitars!

majorsteve said...

Becky is right. It sounds awesome together. Satriani and Coldplay should use this controversy for publicity and re-release the song. Since one version has lyrics it would have to be Coldplay featuring Satriani.

Hey, someone get Joe on the phone....

Chaotic Hammer said...

I agree, Seth -- that is cool.

But I also wonder how far down this road we want to go. There are many, many songs that use identical chord progressions and melodies, and have the same rhythm. It would be easy to overlay one onto another like this, and conclude that somebody has ripped somebody else off. We don't live in a vacuum, so there may not be any way to tell for sure whether or not it's intentional (and as you noted earlier, apparently intent is not even relevant, legally speaking).

Maybe there should be a uniform legal treatment for such situations. Forget about intent, forget about using accusatory language like "plagiarism". There is nothing new under the sun -- everything is in some way just a rewrite or rearrangement of something that has already been done.

Let there be a judicial governing body with musical expertise that judges whether or not a "new" work is significantly or wholly a copy of an earlier work, and if they judge it to be so, have standardized royalty-collection rates for the person who wrote the original. Maybe the extent of similarity could be judged in varying degrees, with different royalty rates for different degrees of similarity. That seems less combative, and doesn't make artists sound like criminals.

I know there are many subtle nuances that I'm not taking into account with my proposed solution (such as "sampling" and "fair use"), but do you think there's any sense to the gist of what I'm saying?

Seth Ward said...

C-ham, wow! What a committee that would be! However, the process, I fear, would take all the fun out of writing something new and as it is, we are already in danger of doing that with all the copyright laws in place. Back in the day, composers were quoting each other all the time and it was considered a kind of flattery. Now, because of the laws in place, people steal and give NO credit. They figure out EXACTLY how much they can sound like a good idea that they've heard without plagiarizing.

Think of this: If Coldplay would have just stated that they were quoting Satriani, (if they were, which I doubt) then Satriani would have benefitted as his sales would have gone up. I mean, I bought his tune, a tune I would have NEVER heard but because of the complaint and association I was re-introduced to Satriani. I just bet he's had thousands of new purchases because of the bustle.

Honestly, I'm all for a system of giving credit where credit is due. When Amber and I were shopping our stuff to the Nashville bigwigs we experienced a little annoyance... We brought in two songs to an A&R guy at a major label, and he sort of said he liked them but eventually foo foo'd them off. 6 months later, an artist that HE represented did a tour with the title of the song that we gave him and a song that was kind of similar to ours. Irritating. However, it wouldn't have been irritating if he had just said, "you know, there was this couple that came in ... and .... and they had this nice song that wouldn't have worked necessarily for any of our artists but the title was original and the concept and so we took that an ran with it. Check out their music!"

May sound weird, but that would have been nice.

Another instance... a friend of mine went on tour with a HUGE Christian headliner. This guy wanted to cover a song made famous by another artist. Then my friend said, "hey, you should hear my buddy's arrangement. He wrote a bridge and new words for it. It's really cool." The bigtime dude listened to our song, loved it and even announced at concerts that he was going to do it on his next record. However, instead of doing ours, he did another version of the song... kinda similar to ours, but not really anything to get huffy over.

Now, that's all well and fine, but the guy wouldn't have even had the idea to do the tune and make tons of money if my friend hadn't lent him our version.

For some reason, those are the things that get under my skin a little. Just say, "yeah, I heard this great version by .... .... and it inspired me to do my own. Instead, he just "came up with the idea" all by his lonesome. Whatever, I have friends who have MUCH worse horror theft stories in the "Christian" music industry.

This kind of stuff happens all the time and it sucks. Big name artists jack stuff from little indies, constantly, and play if off as their own idea. And my point is, if the copyright laws weren't such that people would get sued if they "borrow" then more people would be known because the taker was gracious enough to give credit to where credit is due.

Many composers back in the day became known because a bigger composer would quote something they heard from the smaller composer, OR the smaller composer would quote something from the bigger guy or write a set of theme and variations on it or simply rearrange it. Mozart did this with Handel's Messiah and Beethoven did this with about every good melody he is known for. Liszt made half the composers in Europe famous (and fed) by doing his own transcriptions and arrangements of their orchestral works on his recitals. (List of composers he helped in this way would be: Mendelssohn, Chopin, Berlioz, Grieg...)

It's kind of a trickle-down musical economics but at least it is something rather than the outright THEFT that happens daily. (What happened to us wasn't really theft, it was just annoying.)

I honestly think that the Coldplay Satriani thing was a fluke. I was talking to Amber about it and the progression just kind of lends itself to that melodic contour. I could maybe even build a case for it that way using traditional counterpoint rules and historical examples. Because as you say, the reason there are so many similarities is because there is a set of rules that, whether song-writers know it or not, are followed. Harmony, counterpoint, suspensions... The thing that strikes me is the rhythmic patterns, melody AND harmony are so similar. Here, whether Coldplay likes it or not, Satriani has a case. Because you can be convicted of unintentional plagiarism.

Chaotic Hammer said...

So if I understand what you're saying here, you think we should be more lenient when one composer "borrows" or "quotes" parts from another, as long as the borrowing composer is careful to give due credit to the original source of their inspiration, is that correct?

I think the judicial governing body I suggested would be more like an arbitration board -- something voluntary within the industry for example, that people could join and support in good will, and agree to certain standards specifically to avoid the legal system. I was thinking along the lines that we shouldn't be tying up the whole legal system with such an inherently litigious environment. It sounds like you're agreeing that the current system encourages it to be this way, and also puts the "big boys" at a competitive advantage, whereas the "little guys" don't have deep enough pockets to do anything every time they get ripped off shamelessly.

I wonder how often this stuff is about money, and how often it's really about the honesty and integrity in the art itself. I know that for you, it would be the latter, but as we've discussed at length here in your comments some time back, there's always the question of artistic integrity vs. financial gain because in our system, the two are often inseparable, and artists need to eat too.

I don't know, Seth. I'm just an outsider looking in, who knows pretty much nothing about this stuff. But it's a fascinating subject, and it's interesting to hear your ideas and experiences.

Shaun Groves said...

My understanding is you can copyright chords. And the melody is only similar, not identical, except for the first half of the phrase. I'd throw it out of court.

Geez, if you could copyright chords, you know how many worship leader/rock stars could be sued by the guy who wrote 1-5-6-4 ?


Shaun Groves said...

Sorry, should read "CAN'T" copyright chords.

Seth Ward said...

That's actually a pretty good idea... copyright the 1564 progression... hmmmm

Did you know that a few years back a guy tried to copyright consecutive telephone tones? Almost did it too, on a couple that sounded like melodies.

No, I don't think you can copyright chords... that's like copyrighting a letter or maybe a vowel sound...