How hard can that be?
Actually, easier than you think. Given different octaves, meter, rhythm and accents, many believe the possibilities are endless.
But that also means that a lot of songs can sound alike, which can result in some legal complications and expense.
Just ask Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams who lost a copyright infringement lawsuit to the tune of $7.3 million in damages.
The suit alleged that the two used “elements” of the 1977 Marvin Gaye song “Got to Give It Up” in the song “Blurred Lines” without giving credit to the late Gaye. The jury based its decision not on a recording of “Got to Give It Up” but on the sheet music for the song.
During the legal proceedings, Williams testified that all “Blurred Lines” had in common with “Got to Give It Up” was the “feel.”
On this, I tend to agree.
Jon Caramanica recently wrote in The New York Times, “There are untold things that static sheet music can’t capture: tone, feel and intensity or texture, all of which are as important to modern songwriting as the notes, and probably more so.”
As a songwriter, I certainly am concerned about clear violations of copyrights, but I just don’t see that here. I fear this case could, in Williams’ representative’s words, “a horrible precedent for music and creativity going forward.”
You can’t copyright a chord progression or a song title, and I don’t see where you can corner the market on a “feel” or groove either.
Pete Townshend, who wrote many masterpieces for The Who, said as much when accusations surfaced that pop group One Direction had ripped off the hit "Baba O'Riley" — in its hit "Best Song Ever."
In a statement Townshend said no legal action is planned. He says the chords involved are the same ones commonly used in basic pop music since Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran and Chuck Berry were rocking and rolling.
Most of us start out covering the songs that inspired our love of music in the first place. When we begin composing our own “original” tunes we often borrow from those who came before us, sometimes without even realizing it.
As long as song isn’t a word-for-word, note-for-note blatant theft, I can’t see where anyone can prove copyright infringement or that an artist has been economically damaged by another song.
Thicke and Williams are reportedly appealing the judgment and I wish them well.
With all the piracy and the other economic problems the music industry faces today songwriters and artists don’t need to be fighting each other for that ever-dwindling piece of the revenue pie.