Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Copyright Thoughts

Here are my thoughts on the Robin Thicke thing.

The way I was taught copyright law, you're only violating copyright if you use the same words or melody.  That's really all you can own in a song.  In the case of Sam Smith and Tom Petty, it's clear cut copyright infringement.  This example is not, because the melodies of the Robin Thicke song and the Marvin Gaye song are totally different.

However, I think this case goes beyond a simple copyright dispute.  From my understanding, you are also allowed to own the contents of a recording.  This is why it is illegal to use samples of other people's records in your music without their permission.

But again, this is not the case here. Blurred Lines doesn't use any samples from Got To Give It Up.

So what is the deal here?  If according to copyright law, you can only own words and melody, then that leaves all the other musical contributions in a song up for grabs.  This is because the copyright law is an outdated law written at the birth of published music. Since sheet music only contained words and melody, the right to copy that sheet music only protected words and melody.

So even though Blurred Lines doesn't copy melody or lyrics, when many people hear it, they immediately think "this sounds like Got To Give It Up."  This poses an interesting problem. Should production, arrangement and accompaniment ideas be something you can own?  As someone who does both these things for a living, I'd say yes.  But this is a tough thing to judge.

For example, Stacy's Mom copies a production genre.  So should that be illegal?  I don't think so.  In that case, Stacey's Mom sounds like a Cars song, but not a specific cars song.  It's not overtly using the same groove, or chord progressions, but it's definitely trying to sound like a song the Cars would record.

Blurred Lines, copies a specific song so I think they're asking for trouble.

I don't think Robin Thicke did anything wrong under the Copyright laws as I understand them.  But I do think it's time to revisit these laws and create more specific language regarding what artists, writers and producers can own.

Pop and R&B have become the wild west of rip off artists, and I think it's time to start dropping the hammer on some of the more blatant offenses.


  1. The inherent flaw in copyright law is that it assumes that *notes belong to people*, and they are making money off it. And as I'm sure you already know, there's only a certain amount of chords/melodies/ that are possible within a scale or key or time signature. And as far as production, arrangement and orchestration being "copyrighted", I think that's an equally interpretative game. Could one musician with the right tools make a recording that "sounds" like another one? Of course they could. Would there be a copyright infringement? Maybe, if both people were making money off their "sounds". Of course, this has nothing to do with the reason that people are inspired to make music without a profit. It has everything to do with people who make money off of it. Musicians/composers/producers have been ripping each other off for centuries. It's only an issue because of money, which has really nothing to do with the reason that people create music because of inspiration. Just my 2 cents, no need to respond.