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

from the here-comes-everyone,-entertainment-law-edition dept

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.

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Comments on “Music Fans And 'Amateur Musicologists' May Impact Coldplay/Satriani Copyright Battle”

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TheStupidOne says:


Satriani should be honored that a younger musician is playing something similar to his music. Coldplay should be gracious and courteous to Satriani for having played the basic melody first. (Same for Cat Stevens) Coldplay isn’t taking any value away from the older recordings, and if anything is adding value to them because fans of coldplay might hear Satriani’s song and decide that they like it because it is similar to Coldplay’s song. Music is not a zero sum game

SoundMind says:

Re: Honored

While Satriani should be honored, credit should still be given in the creative process of a song. No one said that there is value being taken away. The whole basis of creating music/intelectual property is to have the possibility of making money/income from it. The very basis of a free-market economy. If I asked you to go to work and not be paid for it, how would you feel? Why should a writer write books, a painter sell his/her paintings? Why should songwriter’s write, if they couldn’t make a living from it?

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re: Honored

While Satriani should be honored, credit should still be given in the creative process of a song

Why? If he had absolutely nothing to do with writing it, why should he get credit?

No one said that there is value being taken away.

If he’s demanding money, then that’s exactly what he’s saying.

The whole basis of creating music/intelectual property is to have the possibility of making money/income from it. The very basis of a free-market economy.

No, that is simply not true at all. First, there are numerous ways to make money that have nothing, at all, to do with copyright. The purpose of copyright was about creating incentives for more creation — not about “the possibility of making money/income from it.”

And copyright is the opposite of a free market system rather than “the very basis of” one. A free market system means the market decides. Copyright means the gov’t grants a monopoly. Those two are opposites.

If I asked you to go to work and not be paid for it, how would you feel?

Ok, let’s try this again: copyright is not the only (or even the best) way to get paid. No one is saying “work and don’t get paid.” Especially not in this case. Satriani did not write the song for Coldplay. It’s not clear why he thinks he deserves all of the profits from the song… especially when Cat Stevens appears to have written the same stuff years earlier.

Why should a writer write books, a painter sell his/her paintings? Why should songwriter’s write, if they couldn’t make a living from it?

You are obviously new here or you wouldn’t write that. We’ve displayed many different business models that creative folks have used to make money that don’t involve copyright.

aikanae says:

Everything old is new again

No artwork, music or creative idea develops in a vacuum. They all form from somewhere else. Copyrights should return to being a limited right, an exception for a limited time on new works just for this reason.

Allowing copyrights on a set of chords is as dumb as allowing biological genes to be patented. If plots and storylines start undergoing the same challenges, Hollywood would have died thirty years ago.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Still glad

There’s no guarantee that they are going to fight this. I’ve at least heard rumors that they’re planning to settle it out of court just to get it done and over with. Thats the problem with our system. A lot of times its cheaper to just not go to court and to settle, even if the law is on your side. It just encourages people to abuse the system.

mr.sinister says:

Re: Still glad

Copyright sucks? COPYRIGHT SUCKS? You are a utter moron. You obviously have ZERO creativity, and have never created anything of merit on your own, otherwise you would never write such a daft comment. Copyright you dunce protects the CREATOR of art, by THEIR talents, from ass wipes like YOU that cannot create anything of your own imagination. unreal, find a cliff and do society a favor.

As for the Coldplay theft, its rather simple actually, and an easy win in court for Satriani. o lets break this down musically, Both songs share the same tempo, meter and groove at about 122 bpm and the bass kicks are in the same time

Both songs have the exact same chord progression and are in the same key and have the same rhythm

Both songs have the same melody,

In fact I laid on Chris Martin’s vocals and Joe Satriani’s “chorus” top of eachother and the vocal rises and falls are in sync with the guitar riff T

herefore, Chris Martin’s “originality” comment applies only to himself, and Satriani has a good case according to the music theory behind it

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