This post originally appeared on Techdirt.
Last December, guitarist Joe Satriani sued Coldplay for copyright infringement over a similar sounding melody. The story generated a lot of discussion here, as people dug up countless examples of other songs with similar melodies (some predating Satriani’s tune) to support the argument that it might just be a natural melody to sing over the chords. The lawsuit resurfaced in the news around the Grammys, with Coldplay calling it “ridiculous” and Satriani making an emotional case (“I felt like a dagger went right through my heart. It hurt so much…”). Techdirt reader GK points to the news that, last week, Coldplay’s lawyers submitted a federal court filing arguing that any similarities between the two songs were not significant enough to warrant damages. It looks like this may actually go to trial since Satriani is demanding “any and all profits” and Coldplay is standing its ground, but GK suspects that they’ll likely reach a settlement in the end, “offering Satriani a sense of vindication and Coldplay a quieter option for laying the thing to rest.” That seems to be what Satriani wants.
If this really is a case of independent creation, it’s troubling how difficult that would be to prove. In the comments of our original piece, several people noted the case of Bright Tunes v. Harrisongs in which a judge ruled that George Harrison had infringed another song through “unconscious copying” — not intentionally, but by accidentally using a melody he’d heard elsewhere and had stored in his unconscious memory. The problem with “unconscious copying” and unintentional copyright infringement of a melody is that it undermines the independent creation defense and creates a pretty broad scope for what could be construed as copyright infringement in songwriting. Basically, any melody that sounds significantly similar to another might be considered “copied,” even though that happens all the time in music. Plus, it’s not like a similar sounding melody in a completely different song is harmful to the “original;” it’s not like people are listening to Coldplay’s song instead of Satriani’s, or that one tune is impacting the commercial potential of the other. There is no functional equivalency in art.
The Harrison case is well-entrenched, but if Coldplay is intent on clearing its name, the case may offer the courts a chance to rethink the decision (or to re-affirm it…). Though, so far Coldplay’s lawyers seem to be using a de minimis copying defense, arguing that any similarities are insignificant, rather than focusing on independent creation. At any rate, this could be a precedent-setting case… but don’t hold your breath. In the end, it may well just be easier for Coldplay to pay up, settle and make it go away.
Read the comments on Techdirt.