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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  1. identicon
    adam, 22 Dec 2008 @ 12:22pm

    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.

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