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Yusuf Islam Forgives Coldplay For Copying His Song, Even Though They Probably Didn’t

This post originally appeared on Techdirt

When Joe Satriani sued Coldplay for copyright infringment last December, lots of people were quick to notice that a bunch of other songs shared the same melody, including some predating Satriani’s tune. Last month, Yusuf Islam (formerly known as Cat Stevens) made headlines claiming that Coldplay had “stolen” the melody from him, not Satriani. Islam’s 1973 song was one of many that people had noticed which sounded similar, but Islam was sure Coldplay got the melody from him (“if you listen to it, it’s mine!”) and said he’d decide whether or not to take legal action “depending on how well Satriani does.” Now, Islam is talking about it again, this time saying he’s not angry with Coldplay:

I stand by what I said. They did copy my song but I don’t think they did it on purpose. I can understand why they got so upset because they probably don’t even realise they have done it. It happens all the time. I have even copied myself without knowing I have done it. I’ll write down what I think is a new melody and then listen back to it and realise it’s the same as something I have already done. It’s just one of those things and I don’t want them to think I’m angry with them. I’d love to sit down and have a cup of tea with them and let them know it’s ok.

That’s a step up from Satriani’s “dagger through my heart” response, especially if he’s suggesting the cup of tea instead of a lawsuit (though, TwentyFourBit notes that the Flaming Lips would be annoyed if Coldplay gets a tea settlement while they got a royalty split). But it’s still odd that Islam is so convinced that the melody is his. What about all the other songs with the same melody? Islam doesn’t even entertain the possibility that no copying took place, that it’s just a natural melody to sing over those chords. He’s forgiving them for something they deny having done, and, although upset initially, Chris Martin actually said the claims are inspiration to write better songs. It’s nice to see Islam recognize that this sort of thing “happens all the time” and that “it’s ok” — and hopefully that means he’s given up on a lawsuit — but he fails to admit even the possibility that Coldplay came up with the melody on their own. Regardless, this can’t be helping Satriani’s case.

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Music Fans And ‘Amateur Musicologists’ May Impact Coldplay/Satriani Copyright Battle

This article originally appeared on Techdirt.

In the April 2009 issue of Entertainment Law & Finance, three partners in the Intellectual Property Group at Kilpatrick Stockton LLP take a look at the role that “amateur musicologists” have played thus far in the copyright battle stemming from Satriani’s lawsuit against Coldplay for copyright infringement back in December. I’ll include relevant quotes from the article, since you need to register for a free account in order to read the PDF.

What makes this case unique is the lively debate that it has prompted, which will likely impact how this action and similar infringement cases will be prosecuted and defended going forward. Within days of the suit’s initiation, the popular Web site YouTube was inundated with postings in which fans freely offered their opinions concerning the merits of Satriani’s claims (or absence there-of). Some of these submissions were supported by surprisingly detailed analyses of the works.

We saw this in the comments on Techdirt, as there was a lively debate and people were quick to mention a variety of other songs with the same melody. The article also mentions a Canadian guitar teacher who uploaded some videos to YouTube with a detailed analysis.

The parties should take note of the prior art works that have surfaced as part of the public debate. Such works could prove to be helpful to Coldplay in defending against Satriani’s claims, as they could reflect that Satriani himself may have “unconsciously copied” from an earlier work.

This was written before Cat Stevens claimed that Coldplay was actually infringing his song, the “Foreigner Suite,” which was one of the similar sounding tunes people had noticed online. Anyone monitoring the online discussion about the copyright battle would have had this on their radar. Also, it was Cat Stevens’ son who brought the song to his attention, my guess would be as a result of discussion about the similarities online.

Or [prior art] may simply reflect these oft-quoted words from the Second Circuit: “It must be remembered that, while there are an enormous number of possible permutations of the musical notes of the scale, only a few are pleasing; and much fewer still suit the infantile demands of the popular ear. Recurrence is not therefore an inevitable badge of palgiarism.” Darrell v. Joe Morris Music Corp., 113 F.2d 80, 80 (2d Cir. 1940)

This quote reinforces the idea that there are only so many ways to combine chords.

What makes the Internet commentary regarding the two songs particularly interesting is that much of it replicates the type of expert analysis that both sides will likely use if the case goes forward. In music copyright infringement cases, it is rare for parties to rely solely on bare assertions of copying or independent creation. Instead, they frequently engage “musicology” experts to undertake detailed analyses of every element of alleged similarity between the two works and conclude whether all or portions of one work were copied from the other. The parties and their experts in [this case] should consider the analyses of the “amateur musicologists” that have weighed in via the Internet and other media, if for no other reason than they may be informative of how a jury might ultimately view the case…

While Satriani v. Martin may not go to trial for a variety of reasons, it is clear that user-generated content sites like YouTube have the potential to alter the way music cases — and other types of copyright case — are developed. Because advances in technology allow the public to participate in real-time infringement debate, future parties would do well to monitor this “chatter” as it could uncover evidence and theories that may be helpful to the case of the copyright owner, the alleged infringer or both.

The online discussion is largely what has made this case so unique. There have been successful copyright infringement lawsuits over melodies in the past (most notably Bright Tunes v. Harrisongs), but never has the public been able to participate so much in the debate. I think it’s likely that Cat Stevens’ son wouldn’t have known of the similarity between the melodies if not for all of the other people who noticed and highlighted it online. If the case does go to trial, the internet commentary may influence the strategy on both sides and serve as a preview of the arguments. If it doesn’t go to trial, the online discussion may influence any sort of negotiation as a means of assessing opinion on the merits of the infringement claim.

The melodies are undoubtedly similar, but the legal question is whether or not Coldplay copied from Satriani. It’s not just Coldplay’s word against Satriani’s, but music fans and “amateur musicologists” are gathering evidence and providing theories which are having a noticeable impact on the proceedings.

Read the comments on Techdirt.

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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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Coldplay Denies Copying Satriani In Federal Court Filing

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.

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Michael Jackson and Rihanna Both Get Sued Over a 1972 Tune

This article originally appeared on Techdirt.

At 75, an artist may be too old to write a new hit single, but that doesn’t make them too old to sue someone famous with a new hit single for a large sum of money over 10 syllables from a 37-year-old song. Cameroonian artist, Manu Dibango, is suing both Michael Jackson and Rihanna for copyright infringement over his 1972 hit, Soul Makossa. The complicating factor is that Jackson was already sued decades ago for infringing the tune in his 1983 single, Wanna Be Startin’ Something, and he had settled with Dibango, but now he’s under fire again for allegedly licensing the infringing bit to Rihanna for her 2007 hit, Please Don’t Stop the Music, without contacting Dibango to get permission. According to Wikipedia, Soul Makossa features a Duala chant, “Mama-ko, mama-sa, ma-ka-ma-ko-ssa,” while a similar sounding Swahili chant, “Ma Ma Se, Ma Ma Sa, Ma Ma Coo Sa,” appears in both Jackson’s and Rihanna’s song. Dibango is demanding €500,000, and that the courts block the labels from receiving any money from the allegedly infringing tunes until the matter is resolved.

Dibango has a history of making great music, but more recently, he served as President of the Cameroon Music Corporation, where he was known for defending intellectual property rights and fighting piracy. It’s a real shame that you need to hire a law firm to make use of a catchy phrase from another song, but I guess that’s what happens when everyone is focused on “protecting” their rights, rather than on making music.

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