EMI Claims Controversial Satriani/Coldplay Mashup Video Violates Coldplay Copyright

from the ironically-stupid dept

A few weeks ago, there was quite the lively discussion over a video mashing up Coldplay’s song Viva La Vida with Joe Satriani’s If I Could Fly. While the video had been on YouTube for quite some time, Satriani had decided to sue Coldplay over it, demanding all profits from its song. There are a number of reasons why this didn’t make much sense, but folks in our comments did a fantastic job sniffing out the details — including the fact that the video mashing up both videos had actually altered to make them sound alike, and if you listened to the originals, they were not nearly as close. They are in different tempos/keys to make them sound alike. That same user also pointed us to a Cat Stevens song Love/Heaven from (at least) 1973 that sounds quite similar as well, suggesting that if Coldplay owes Satriani any money, Satriani actually owes Cat Stevens quite a bit as well. Or there’s the song Hearts by Marty Balin of Jefferson Starship… written in 1981. Or any of the other dozen or so songs that others have pointed out sound quite similar — and if mixed professionally to change the tempo could probably sound like a pretty exact match.

Either way, it appears the story has now taken a turn towards the totally ridiculous, as EMI, who holds the copyright on Coldplay songs has gone around claiming copyright on the Satriani/Coldplay mashup videos that were out there. It is true that whoever put those videos together, did a really good job adjusting the two songs to make them work together. Because of that, many people hear the mashup and immediately assume that it’s so close that Coldplay absolutely must have copied Satriani. But, there’s little actual evidence to support that — and, given that both songs were actually adjusted to make the video, it’s quite misleading. Still, for EMI to then go and demand those videos be taken down (while leaving up plenty of other videos of just Coldplay’s music) is just dumb. First of all, the mashup video is almost certainly fair use. It’s used for criticism and/or reporting, and not for profit (well, unless you’re Joe Satriani).

But, more importantly, in pulling down the video it makes it look like EMI and Coldplay have something to hide, while calling even more attention to the whole thing. It takes a special kind of short-sightedness to claim that a video supposedly demonstrating your own copyright violations violates your copyright. When the whole story first broke, Coldplay quickly denied any connection, saying that, if there were any similarities it was a coincidence. The band should have left it at that… or, if EMI were really smart (stop laughing), it should have produced a professional mashup of some of those other songs as well, demonstrating how common that particular melody is in music, and how one can distort a few songs to make them sound the same. Instead, it chose the worst option of all: acting guilty and abusing copyright law to try to hide stuff.

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Comments on “EMI Claims Controversial Satriani/Coldplay Mashup Video Violates Coldplay Copyright”

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Chuck Norris' Enemy (deceased) says:

I suspect

I was pretty sure the songs were doctored up (sped up/slowed down, etc.) to sound more similar. Never listened to either song in its true form. Let me know when somebody does a mashup of Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ and Snoop Dogg’s ‘Tha Shiznit’. I want to see how skilled these mashup guys really are.

Ima Fish (profile) says:

including the fact that the video mashing up both videos had actually altered to make them sound alike, and if you listened to the originals, they were not nearly as close

You guys seem to be under impression that a song is copyrighted because of it’s key or tempo. Or even worse, that infringing can occur when the songs somehow “sound alike.” Those are not even remotely true. Merely changing the key of a song does not mean you’re not infringing a copyright. Nor does slowing a song down. Nor does rearranging it to a different genre of music.

What matters is the notes. Does anyone really think that George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” sounds like “He’s So Fine”? No, of course not. But “sounds like” is not the standard. It’s the notes, and there is little doubt that the infringing notes are the same between the two songs.

Before people start flaming me, I’m of the opinion that pop music does not deserve copyright protection, that at its heart pop music is all about borrowing and rearrainging. God, look at the similarities between Satriani’s/Cold Play’s/Cat Steven’s songs. It’s simply absurd to think that anyone should be allowed to “own” those widely used progression of notes.

So my point is to simply set everyone straight. There is nothing nefarious, wrong, or underhanded in changing the key and tempo to better demonstrate how the notes are the same.

trollificus says:


Given the initial lawsuit, shouldn’t it be Satriani’s people who are claiming this infringement? Or is that before cart horse putting?

Seriously, that sequence of notes exists in songs preceding Satriani’s usage, so hopefully this whole thing blows up into a bunch of people realizing how lame the current state of IP law is…but not before the lawyers get paid, of course.

Coldplagiarism (user link) says:

Too Many Non-Musicians are Clueless!

No doubt Coldplagiarism happened here. Coldplay’s arrogance will bite them in the ass. Any real musician can see how extremely close both the melody and the chord progression are. While it is true that you can’t copyright a chord progression, the work in question becomes all the more suspect when you add a virtually identical melody on top of a chord sequence that is almost exactly the same as well. Furthermore, even if you give Coldplay the benefit of the doubt that this was unintentional, it doesn’t matter. Satriani still owns the copyright to the intellectual property that was employed in Viva La Vida. Ignorance is not an excuse. If Coldplay is smart, they will try to settle this out of court.

Get the Coldplagiarism shirt!!

I also want to address a point that a lot of very ignorant people are making. Be aware that when you make an issue out of altering the tempo or the key to compare music, you demonstrate to the educated among us that you have no idea what you are talking about. It is very well established that these two songs are not in the same key. In fact, they are about as far away as you can get as they are a tritone apart (exactly half the octave from one another, which puts it right in the middle whether you transpose up or down. You can’t get any further away in key. None of this matters though because key is irrelevant. It’s like arguing over what font is used in a plagiarized essay. The words are still the same. If you think that this is dishonest, all that demonstrates is that you have no concept of how music works. If key changed the actual tune, I could transpose any Coldplay song into a different one, copyright it and claim it was an entirely new song. In fact, I could release an entire album of the same song in every key and claim all the songs were different. Does that make sense? Of course not. So stop bitching about pitch shifting and altering the tempo. There is no argument here and you just look stupid when you bring it up.

Finally, EMI having the videos pulled is disgraceful and youtube should stand up to them. They are selectively pulling videos that paint their artist in a bad light, while taking no issue with the others. What’s even more ironic is that the ones that are being pulled actually demonstrate “fair use” while the ones they leave use the song in it’s entirety. Total BS and hypocritical.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Too Many Non-Musicians are Clueless!

Furthermore, even if you give Coldplay the benefit of the doubt that this was unintentional, it doesn’t matter. Satriani still owns the copyright to the intellectual property that was employed in Viva La Vida. Ignorance is not an excuse.

Uh, no. Copyright is about explicit copying. Accidental or coincidental similarities do not violate copyright.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Too Many Non-Musicians are Clueless!

I always thought the theme is Beyonce / Jay-Z’s Crazy In Love sounded like the theme to the Muppet Show. Sue them!

@Coldplagiarism: “Ignorance is not an excuse.”

Erm, yes it is. If they were honestly ignorant (e.g. had never listened to Satriani’s song and any similarities are a co-incidence), then how exactly has copyright infringement taken place? Given that every rock song utilises the same range of available guitar chords, of course some combinations are going to sound similar.

“If key changed the actual tune, I could transpose any Coldplay song into a different one, copyright it and claim it was an entirely new song.”

Maybe. If you changed the key, tempo and lyrics, maybe introduced a new bridge and solo then yes. If you just transposed the key and kept everything else the same, then no.

GK says:

Re: Re: Too Many Non-Musicians are Clueless!

Uh, no. Accidental or coincidental similarities DO violate copyright (particularly since it is virtually impossible to prove coincidence as opposed to intent)- they still violate intellectual property rights in terms of copyright law. The previous poster was utterly right: legally, ignorance is no excuse.

George says:


Its true that this is total bogus, i bet that any song nowdays can be traced back to a bazillion other songs in the past. Take for example these 3 songs: Crystal by New Order, Bohemian Like you by the Dandy Warhols and Mad World by Tears for Fears. If you listen carefully to all of them they have the eaxct same chord progression. I bet there are 230942 more songs with that exact same tune anyways…

another mike says:

mix masters

It’s all copies of Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” anyway.

There’s a new music model for you, grab an old (public domain) classic from the old masters and remix it a dozen different ways and release that as an album. We’ve heard Beethoven as a disco hit and heavy metal Mozart, but those were singles. Someone needs to do an entire album mixing up a single song to different tempo, key, even genre. Death metal Greensleeves might be an interesting listen; though it’s emo enough it might not change the song much.

Michael S Patterson (user link) says:

Mike Masnick Muddling The Issue

Mike, You’ve done a great job in muddling up two very discrete issues, one being intellectual rights and one of mechanical rights.

As you are probably aware ASCAP, in it’s daily email, has linked this article. So, you have a least some people coming here from the intellectual property and public performance world.

I would highly suggest that you define these violations better. As you see from the comments, you’ve done an excellent job of confusing the issue and not bring a clarity or better understanding of it.

-Michael S Patterson

Tom Jones (user link) says:

Correct me if I’m wrong. A harmonic progression can’t be copyrighted as stated before. A melody can be the same up to 5 consecutive notes. Maybe 6, don’t remember exactly. After that it’s musical plagiarism. I listened to the 2 tracks bought off of iTunes, and they are close. This reminds me of the Ice Ice Baby issue. I side with Coldplay . Why is it now that Satriani is bringing up the issue? Money. It probably wouldn’t have made a difference if they didn’t get so many sales.

Even if Satriani won he shouldn’t get any and all profits. Coldplay wrote the lyrics. My opinion is that if he won without a doubt then he would get 50% max. This just further shows it’s about money after the fact of the song’s success. I first heard the song on the commercials Apple put out. If I was Satriani I think I would’ve brought up the issue then. That was a while back.

Again, I favor Coldplay because I question Satriani’s motives. He may be doing this just to stir up media. Who knows? It made me go and buy the track. Melodyne DNA is going to definitely shake the laws up.

I do want to make a quote a portion of a book I found interesting. This is from the “Dance Music Manual” by Rick Snoman.

“Without the freedom to borrow and develop on the past, creativity is stifled and with that our culture can only slow to a grinding pace.” To quote Laurence Leesig: ‘A society free to borrow and build upon the past is culturally richer than the controlled one.’

Let everyone know what you think. I would like to hear what everyone has to say.

Bye for now,


adam says:

FaIr use

Just to nitpick here about copyright law. The concept of ‘fair use’ is often misunderstood and is in fact much more narrowly applicable that many people think. It covers certain uses of scholarly and journalistic nature. Fair use lets a newspaper print a quote from a book without explicit permission from the author.

The mashup video is definitely not fair use. In fact, much content currently on Youtube is in violation of copyright law. If you want to use a copyrighted song in a video that you post on the internet, you need a license from the owners of the song, and you need a license from the owners of the master recording. Most copyright owners just tolerate the use of their intellectual property on Youtube, probably because they see the value in promotion. Some, however, choose to pursue those that use their copyrighted material without permission. Prince is a good example of someone who pursues infringers aggresively.
EMI has the right to control the use of it’s masters and copyrighted song compositions on Youtube. It may seem arbitrary that they take down one video that is the subject of controversy while leaving up others, but they do have the legal right to do that.

george cain says:

tempo is irrelavant, key is irrelevant.

I can sing “amazing grace” in a different key and slower or faster tempo…it’s still amazing grace dude.

yeah, why don’t you do a song with hey jude music in a different key and change the lyrics and slower tempo.
see if you don’t get your ass sued to hell and high water by the beatles….


give me a break. it’s about relative pitch relationships.

whoever wrote this article knows nothing about music.

Blaise Alleyne (profile) says:

Re: Re:

tempo is irrelavant, key is irrelevant.

It’s not that tempo or key changes make something different, but by playing the two songs side by side it makes it seem as if Coldplay might have had Satriani’s song playing in the background while they were recording or something, like they simply layered theirs over his and then muted the track.

The tempo/key change is relevant in that, when vying for people’s opinion, it’s not as simple as playing the two recordings side by side to get them to flow seamlessly together, someone put quite a bit of effort into making them match up.

It’s relevant in terms of how people form their opinion on the similarity, even if it’s irrelevant in the actual lawsuit.

Joe (profile) says:

What about the math...

“I feel this chap has got the nail on the head, as a keen musician there is no arguing that the songs are musically TOO similar to be different. “

He may be a good music theorist, but he’s not a lawyer or a mathematician. EVEN IF they are similar, the question is if they are SIGNIFICANTLY similar such that it is highly improbable that this is just a coincidence. What if the probability is such that any two songs within these two genres are one in 100000 that they will be as similar (with all MUSICAL notions taken into consideration). Then of the millions of songs created in the past 50 years there’s bound to be coincidental similarity of songs. So it’s a mathematicians job to take all musical notions into account and integrate this probability over n years and determine the probability that this could of happened eventually. Now I’m sure the math would be insane here, but based on the now 5 youtube songs that sound just as “similar” as Sat’s it is not unreasonable that this could of happened by chance (YES WITH EVERY SINGLE MUSICAL ASPECT TAKEN INTO ACCOUNT, YES AS UNLIKELY AS YOU THINK IT IS). Indeed, it seems to happen all the time–people just have short memories. That, and there are enough intransigent coldplay haters who never actually thought about the aesthetics, the purpose of music, and so eschew the popular that this issue has got so much play.

Keyz says:

Assuming it’s legitimate (the band does look legitimate, though I’ve personally not heard of them), this example appears the most convincing yet (against Satriani’s case):

It’s a song called “Sing for your Supper” by a New Zealand band called Tim Armstrong Band and the song was evidently recorded in the 1980s. If anyone could confirm that this is indeed the original recording, then it would be the most significant evidence against Satriani’s case as of yet (not that there isn’t already enough). It looks like Tim Armstrong has been in several bands over the years, so the song might be under a different band name.

Some will likely say “Satriani’s probably never heard of that band or heard that song.” Maybe, maybe not. In the same way, though Coldplay certainly are aware of Satriani, there’s no proof that they’ve heard his song “If I Could Fly” (after all, it wasn’t a famous or well known song, and would only be known by Satriani fans, not necessarily by people who’ve just heard/know about Satriani, or listen to his music occasionally, and to claim that Coldplay are “fans” would be pure speculation). I think the many examples brought up so far of nearly this exact melody prove beyond doubt that this is just a melody that happens to come up more easily/often (which over the simple common chord progression it’s played over, and the limited number of “pleasant sounding notes” that are even possible over those chords, is not at all surprising).

I’ve been analyzing (along with a variety of other experts in music theory) the popular “creativeguitarstudio” teacher’s music theory videos about Coldplay/Satriani, and we have found almost every point made in them to be inaccurate. I’m working on a comprehensive response (with video if possible) to highlight the correct music theory, supplied with actual proof (it’s taking a while since I’m just doing it when I have spare time). As I mentioned earlier, I’m not doing this because of being a fan of either band/musician – I’m just fed up with the wrong music theory being spread around as “proof” – not to mention it’s a fun and interesting music theory exercise 🙂

Gord (profile) says:

The melody is extremely close.

The verse of the coldplay one matches the chorus of the Satriani one extremely well. Too well to be a coincidence.

Key change? Irrelevant.
Tempo? Irrelevant, although they are almost exactly the same anyways.
Melody? Almost bang on, both in the notes, and also in the duration of said notes.

We’ll likely never know if Coldplay meant to copy Satriani or not, but it’s way too close for comfort.

Judd Sandage says:

well, I also think that the Chobits intro sounds like it too http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tkrpLjQScHY&eurl=http://video.google.com/videosearch?q=chobits&oe=utf-8&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a&u well the extended version you can hear it better http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VxyMhWduX5w&feature=related oh wait that came out in 2001, so “If I Could Fly” sounds kind of like that… wait what? this is so crazy.

Anonymous Coward says:

You’ve got to love obviously biased articles, they song still sound very similar in true form as well, the tempo is barely different, and just because the songs in a different key does not change the fact that the vocal line is pretty much an exact copy of Satriani’s guitar riff

EX. Just because I play happy birthday slower and in a G instead of a D for instance, its still happy birthday

Darien says:

To all the non-musicians who are crying foul...

…I guess a good non-musical analogy would be this:

Coldplay essentially took a novel written by Satriani, translated it word-for-word into French, and changed the main character’s names.

I went to grad school for music, so maybe what is obvious to me is less apparent to you. Anyways, if you really analyze chord structure, melodic movement, rhythm, and even backing instruments, this is one of the more blatant rip-offs in recent years. Of course, that’s all pretty tough to prove under the letter of the law.

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