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Cat Stevens Claims Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida” Was Copied From His Song, Not Satriani’s

This post originally appeared on Techdirt.

When guitarist Joe Satriani sued Coldplay for copyright infringement last December, Techdirt readers were quick to point out lots of other songs that sound similar (a great example of the importance of the conversation). Keyz noted that both songs sound a lot like a 1973 Cat Stevens tune.

Guess who else noticed?

Cat Stevens (whose name is now Yusuf Islam) has accused Coldplay of copying his melody from the “Foreigner Suite” (feel free to compare). He told the U. K. Sun, “there’s been this argument about Coldplay stealing this melody from Joe Satriani, but, if you listen to it, it’s mine! It’s the Foreigner Suite, it is!” He claimed that his decision whether or not to pursue this legally will “depend on how well Satriani does” (this wouldn’t be the first such lawsuit from Islam).

The problem is, once you think about this for 6-8 seconds (the length of the melody in question)… it’s just insane. Is Islam threatening Satriani too? If Coldplay used his melody, isn’t Satriani also guilty? Does Satriani still feel that dagger through his heart if the melody wasn’t even “his” to begin with? What about the Creaky Boards, who also claimed the song as theirs a year ago? What about all the other songs that sound similar — Pounding (Doves), J’en Ai Marre (Alizee), Honesty (Billy Joel), Frances Limon (Enanitos Verdes), Hearts (Marty Balin)? At what point does it become obvious that it’s more likely that no copying took place than that everyone is guilty of plagiarism? If anything, this accusation strengthens Coldplay’s claim that this was just a coincidence.

A cynic might assume these are just blatant money grabs or publicity stunts; Satriani is demanding “any and all profits,” Islam is waiting to see how well Satriani does and the accusation comes the day before his latest album release. Also, a cynical approach would explain why Islam seems to be threatening Coldplay instead of Satriani (hint: which song has made more money?), unless Islam’s just letting Satriani do all the work and planning to lay claim on whatever he captures. Unfortunately, I think there may be a little honesty (no, not the Billy Joel song…) to Satriani’s “dagger to the heart” comment and Islam’s exclamation of “it’s mine!” (my precious…). The success of “Viva La Vida” has provided the incentive to actually make these accusations real, but they do seem to be rooted in some sense of actually feeling wronged; these artists really seem to believe some sort of injustice has occurred, that no one else would have come up with the same few notes over the same few chords except by “stealing” from them. Of all people, musicians ought to know there are only so many ways to combine chords. Worrying about who came up with the idea “first” is yet another case of favoring invention over innovation, of giving a rather meaningless importance to chronology when it’s really the way in which people connect with the art that’s most important.

There have been successful copyright infringement lawsuits over melodies in the past, but I’m not sure that there has been such a high profile case like this with multiple people claiming infringement. Hopefully, the overlapping accusations of plagiarism backfire and actually suggest there was no wrongdoing so that a silly and complex web-of-royalties scenario is avoided for what was most likely independent creation. Here’s to hoping that another two or three artists add to the chorus of accusations, further demonstrating how ridiculous this all is!

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