Reaping What They Sowed: Recording Industry Now Quite Upset About Copyright Run Amok
from the maybe-think-about-that-next-time,-geniuses dept
We live in a post Blurred Lines world, in which songs that merely pay homage to earlier songs, or that have a similar “groove” but don’t actually copy anything are deemed infringing. The latest such case is the Katy Perry case, in which a jury found that she had infringed on a work by an artist named Flame, whose track “Joyful Noise” has a few similarities to Perry’s “Dark Horse.” Of course, “some similarities” is not supposed to be infringing. Especially when the similarities are so basic and fundamental to lots of different songs, including many that pre-date “Joyful Noise.”
The issue isn’t that “Joyful Noise” or “Dark Horse” are particularly original: both fuse generic elements of pop, trap and EDM?a style that’s come to define the sound of the 2010s. Though in different keys and tempos, both songs feature a descending minor-key progression with evenly spaced B and C notes.
This four-note progression is as basic as the major-scale power-chord riffs in punk, and Perry’s supporters argue that standard songwriting tropes like these should stay in the public domain. Indeed, well-known works like the Stranger Things theme song and LL Cool J’s “Doin’ It (Remix)” use descending minor-scale loops similar to those in “Dark Horse” and “Joyful Noise.”
This is all leading some to point out that this case shows that copyright law is a mess. And it is. But it’s been a mess for decades, and part of this mess is because of the very industry that’s now flipping out over these rulings. So, it’s totally possible to agree with Katy Perry’s lawyer in calling this a “travesty,” while recognizing that this is the recording industry reaping what it sowed.
For decades, the recording industry — mainly in the form of its lobbying bodies, the RIAA, IFPI and other similar organizations — have pushed, time and time again, for broadly expansive copyright law, in which everything possible is “owned” and everything possible must be licensed. And now we’re reaching the logical conclusion to that mess — even as many of us warned that this is where things would head, and we were laughed off by the very same recording industry as being “copyright haters.” Except, here we are, now, with musicians afraid to even mention their heroes for fear of being sued.
It’s all creating a massive chilling effect on music, and has backed the recording industry into a corner. Perhaps it’s finally time for the recording industry to just admit that it went too far in pushing for everything to be covered by copyright and that everything must be licensed. Perhaps it should start using that massive lobbying power to change copyright laws in a manner that increases fair use and puts basic building blocks of music into the public domain for anyone to use. Perhaps it should admit that not everything needs to be “property,” and that creativity often flows from someone inspired by another musician to create a similar sounding song. And that’s a good thing.
But, instead, the industry is likely to stick to its guns on that, and now it has to deal with the fallout from its own success in redefining copyright.