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Coldplay Copyright Infringement?

Guitarist Joe Satriani has asserted in a complaint filed on Thursday that substantial portions of his 2004 song "If I Could Fly" were copied by Coldplay in its song "Viva La Vida." Judge for yourself:

Of course, you can't really tell, from a comparison of the songs, whether or not there's been infringement; as in all copyright infringement cases, any similarities between the songs are not enough, standing alone, to constitute infringement (no matter how similar the two compositions might be), because the plaintiff has to prove not only that the songs are "substantially similar" to one another, but also that Coldplay actually copied from Satriani's song (i.e., that the similarities aren't due to coincidence, or independent development, or from both artists copying from some third source . . .).

Cleland:
Regardless of the legal merit of Satriani's claim, such derivative works should not be in the running for Album of the Year. In Rainbows ought to take it handily.
12.6.2008 3:57pm
BooBerry12:
I imagine that Satriani's claim isn't that Coldplay copied the same four chords that constitute the chord progression of "If I Could Fly," but that the melody of each verse in "Vida La Vida" copied the lead melody in the chorus from "If I Could Fly." Seems like a slam dunk to me.
12.6.2008 4:05pm
swg:
I'd guess Satriani is just upset that his song did not do as well as Coldplay's, and now he wants "his" share of Coldplay's profits. Because he certainly didn't suffer any actual damages. What an a-hole.
12.6.2008 4:05pm
Cardozo'd (www):
They are very similar. I believe added to the claim is that the band says they thought they saw Chris Martin (lead singer of Coldplay) at one of their concerts. "We were flattered when we thought we spotted Chris Martin in the crowd that night. He seemed pretty into it!...Maybe TOO into it," writes Andrew Hoepfner. I think if that can be proven, it could be enough. David, do you think if they can prove Martin attended a concern of theirs prior to the song being recorded or written they will win?
12.6.2008 4:28pm
lesser ajax:
I think that at least one member of the Beatles would suggest that Coldplay consider a settlement...
12.6.2008 4:31pm
Richard A. (mail):
Speaking of the Beatles, that chord pattern is one of the most common in rock and goes back to "This Boy." There have to be thousands of songs with that pattern and I imagine quite a few with similar melodies.
What's Satriani going to do next, claim he invented the 12-bar blues?
12.6.2008 4:39pm
BooBerry12:
Richard A.: I don't think it's the four chord progression or pattern, which essentially is starting on the minor 6th, advancing to the fourth, the fifth and then to the root, that is at issue. It's the similarity between the melody of the verses in "Vida La Vida" and the lead guitar melody in the chorus of "If I Could Fly."
12.6.2008 4:43pm
scott pilutik (mail) (www):
The My Sweet Lord / He's So Fine case seemed to really hinge on the presence of idiosyncratic similarities--the Court characterized them as being akin to "copying a mistake," namely, the bridge to the next octave in both songs. And so the Court concluded that Harrison must have subconsciously copied. I see the similarities in the Satriani and Coldplay songs as being more broad than idiosyncratic--it's basically two lines. While it seems likely that Coldplay copied, I don't know whether it forces the same conclusion as in Bright Songs v. Harrison, and thus Satriani would need to rely on some sort of evidence that Coldplay copied.
12.6.2008 4:58pm
FantasiaWHT:
I heard that controversy on the radio last night. Honestly, though, while the Coldplay song was playing (and before they even mentioned the other one), I thought the rhythm guitar part sounded a LOT like an Alizee song, but I couldn't remember which one. Maybe Gourmandises...
12.6.2008 4:59pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
I think there is substantial similarity in this case and in the My Sweet Lord/He's So Fine case. However, if you want to play a fun game, you can find these "substantial similarities" all over rock music.
12.6.2008 5:17pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Take Led Zeppelin who did their own fair share of ripping off older blues guys. Compare Going to California and not just one but three pop hits that ripped it off. First Lita Ford's Kiss Me Deadly. Tori Amos' Silent All These Years. And Pearl Jam's Given to Fly.

And just so I'M not accused of ripping anyone off. I didn't first make this observation. A guitarist named
Terry Syrek did a few years ago though I don't think his page is online where he first made it.
12.6.2008 5:43pm
Bruce:
To prove actual copying all you need is access and substantial similarity. Unless Coldplay can demonstrate they were locked in a vault the last 4 years, I really don't see access being a big issue. See, e.g., ABKCO Music Inc. v. Harrisongs Music, Ltd.
12.6.2008 5:53pm
xx:
Prof. Post: Correct me if I'm wrong, but can't two songs be so strikingly similar that actual copying can be inferred from the similarity alone? I thought the issue came up in the George Harrison / Chiffons case. Well, that's a bit controversial. The better view, imho, is that similarity alone can never suffice to prove copying, no matter how striking it might be, without some grounds for the fact-finder to infer that the defendant had access to plaintiff's work. The Harrison case was close to the line here (and wrongly decided, in my view) -- but the court relied not only on the similarities, but also on the fact that Harrison had clearly heard the Chiffons song many times, to find that Harrison "subconsciously" copied. Had there been no evidence that H. had ever heard "He's So Fine," I believe he wins as a matter of law. D Post
12.6.2008 5:53pm
BT:
IIRC, Willie Dixon sued Led for ripping off Whole Lotta Love and won. I am not a rock guy so I may be wrong on the details. Anyway, I knew one of Willie's kids years ago and ran into her within the last few years and asked how she was doing and she just smailed and said she was living of the fat of the land. He wrote a bunch of tunes that were hits so it's good to see his family benefitted.
12.6.2008 6:03pm
Cardozo'd (www):
I believe in that case they assumed it because of of some sort of seeping into Harrison's unconscious mind sort of thing. That the song was so engrained into his memory that he didn't even realize he copying it when he copied it. I believe they were able to do this because the Chiffons song was famous. Now, the song here is not famous. However, they do claim they might have seen Chris Martin at one of their shows. If this is the case and they can prove it I think they can do a few things
1 - argue there's no way such similarities would arise due to coincidence, perhaps use a musicologist to say this, and say he was at a show therefore he must have copied.
2 - argue that since he was at the show, it's possible without the intent to copy, he did so unconsciously, such as in Harrison.

Comments?
12.6.2008 6:07pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):

I believe they were able to do this because the Chiffons song was famous. Now, the song here is not famous. However, they do claim they might have seen Chris Martin at one of their shows. If this is the case and they can prove it I think they can do a few things


I don't think they need to prove Martin was at one of Satch's shows. Satch is a legend among guitar players. It's entirely imaginable that someone in his band blasted the CD. Maybe they were all high on marijuana, heard a cool tune with a catchy melody, forgot about it and then viola the song "comes out" of Chris Martin without realizing it. That's the way it works in rock.
12.6.2008 6:22pm
Fub:
Jon Rowe wrote at 12.6.2008 5:17pm:
I think there is substantial similarity in this case and in the My Sweet Lord/He's So Fine case. However, if you want to play a fun game, you can find these "substantial similarities" all over rock music.
I'd say all over most music. It's easy to find classical composers who quoted others' works. Charles Ives comes to mind as a major "offender".
12.6.2008 6:23pm
Cardozo'd (www):
Well...if that can be proven, then I say that's something they will want to bring up. If not, I don't believe mere speculation of the possibility that happened will pass muster.

I say they the song has to be famous because it's such a stress to use these "seeping into the unconscious" into copying theories that it will probably only be available when it's something that is famous.

However, evidence tending to show that in the community of guitarists this song is as famous as the song in the Harrison case, it might work.
12.6.2008 6:29pm
RichC:
I'm still trying to figure out how The Verve thought they were going to get away with copying Oldham's orchestral arrangement of the Rolling Stones's "Last Dance" virtually note-for-note in "Bittersweet Symphony".
12.6.2008 6:30pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
The Verve's "Bittersweet Symphony" as I understand it was a COPY from the actual recording. There is some argument to be made that sampling an actual recording an "remixing" it might qualify as fair use. But ONLY it seems to me if it is so transformative that you can't tell from where the original sample was derived.

I haven't looked into the issue in detail lately but I'd imagine that almost all artist either get permission before sampling or risk a lawsuit.
12.6.2008 6:33pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):

I'd say all over most music. It's easy to find classical composers who quoted others' works. Charles Ives comes to mind as a major "offender".


Indeed, but one major difference is the classical composers can usually do things with pen and paper that is more "sophisticated" than rock composition. Studying this at Berklee College of music, I learned Stravinsky once said (and this phrase might not even be original to him) good artist borrow, great artists steal. Meaning when you borrow something you have to give it back because it belongs to someone else. When you steal, you "make it your own." A good classical composer can steal ideas and make them seem original. Now that's transformative use.

John Williams by the way, is considered a "lightweight" as a film composer (like the Def Leppard or Poison of composing) in part because when he lifts something it's so obvious. Williams of course is enormously successful; but so are lots of bubble gum pop artists.

Charles Ives, on the other hand, is considered the real deal.
12.6.2008 6:39pm
Bored Lawyer:
As a number of posters have already indicated, it is generally accepted in copyright jurisprudence that "access" and "substantial similarity" can raise an inference of actual copying.

"Access" does not mean that a song has to be famous -- just available to the accused copier. I take it that the plaintiffs' song was published and generally available, even if not a smash hit. That is more than sufficient to establish "access."

Also, the plaintiff does not have to show that the whole of defendant's song was copied nor that the whole of plaintiff's song was copied. It is enough if protectible expression was copied. That the defendant took only some plaintiff's song and then added his own portions is not a defense to copyright infringement.

From this short clip, it sure sounds copied.
12.6.2008 7:15pm
Cardozo'd (www):
Bored Lawyer,

I was not arguing the song need to be famous to show access. I was saying that in the situation, like in the "unconscious" copying case with Harrison, the song would need to be famous to be found copied under this theory. I believe the Harrison case had a tough time showing copying and in fact there was evidence of independent creation.

If you can show access, of course you don't need to be famous. Though I contend:

I take it that the plaintiffs' song was published and generally available, even if not a smash hit. That is more than sufficient to establish "access."

Wouldn't this standard render every song (and for that matter book, drawing, painting) "accessible" the second it is put into a store or itunes? This is a very broad standard. I think they will still need to show some specific access....maybe some proof of exposure to the song, a conert, a cd, or an MP3.
12.6.2008 7:23pm
Badrobot:
Can someone post the complaint?
12.6.2008 7:34pm
Passing By:
I think they were both subconsciously influenced by Marty Balin's "Hearts". I can't hear the Coldplay song without that one coming to mind.
12.6.2008 8:24pm
Fub:
Jon Rowe wrote at 12.6.2008 6:39pm:
When you steal, you "make it your own." A good classical composer can steal ideas and make them seem original. Now that's transformative use.
Note to self: get busy on that alternate history legal procedural novel. Beethoven's estate sues John Philip Sousa for a (fictional) march using his Opus 13 Adagio Cantabile as a rousing trio strain by increasing the tempo and adding an obligatto piccolo line. Mozart's estate intervenes, claiming they both stole it from the K. 457 Adagio. Sousa's lawyers discover documents showing that Thérèse von Trattner originally composed the theme as an exercise assigned by her teacher, Mozart. Hilarity ensues.
12.6.2008 8:28pm
whit:
it's a tough standard. i remember (probably dating myself here) hearing the song "Strength" by the Alarm. When the first few notes of the guitar riff kicked in, i thought it WAS my band and somehow got on the radio. Just that beginning guitar lick, but it was eerily similar to a song i had written. i have NO doubt whatsoever that the Alarm did not rip off a bunch of high school kids, or that they had even heard our song.
12.6.2008 8:28pm
Bored Lawyer:

Wouldn't this standard render every song (and for that matter book, drawing, painting) "accessible" the second it is put into a store or itunes? This is a very broad standard. I think they will still need to show some specific access....maybe some proof of exposure to the song, a conert, a cd, or an MP3.


Basically, yes. This issue is discussed at length in NImmer's Copyright Treatise. Section 13.02. The majority of courts hold that a showing that work has been "widely disseminated" constitutes access. It is enough to show that the defendant could have had access to the work, not that he actually listened to a tape or performance.

Thus in Playboy Enters., Inc. v. Starware Pub. Corp., 900 F. Supp. 433, 437 (S.D. Fla. 1995), the Court held
"[v]irtually every adult in this country has had 'access' to the copyrighted photographs published in Playboy Magazines."

You don't have to show that the defendant actually bought a copy of Playboy.

(The access issue becomes more of an issue when someone submits a song to a company that is never published. The issue then is whether the author of the second work had access to the first.)
12.6.2008 8:32pm
Maurer1L:
The case is a loser. This (ii - V - vi) is one of the most common progressions in music theory — which, I assure you, would be considered at trial

As a side note, this could serve to illustrate why pop music sucks.

Q.E.D.
12.6.2008 8:44pm
RowerinVa (mail):
Two points:

1. As a guitarist myself, I can tell you that both main threads of comments above are correct: this chord progression has been done before; and chord progression alone doesn't begin to explain the similarities between these two songs, which are played so nearly identically that it's hard to believe the author of the second wasn't at the time of re/creation listening, or had very recently listened to, the first. It's not the chord progression but the "way it's played" that makes these recordings so similar -- pacing, effects, right hand technique, color/emotion, emphasis, even backing instrumentation. You need a guitarist to explain the how, but your ear can easily catch the what. This is a good case for some expert testimony, and it could lead to a good faith battle of experts -- in this case, guitarists.

2. This is why we have juries, or at least judge fact finders, rather than computers. Songs are for humans to hear. The human capacity to understand music (how it sounds, and also how it's created) so far surpasses anyone's ability to annotate a music score, or otherwise attempt to explain music academically (or blog-ademically ... sorry, guys and gals) as to make the paper exercise almost useless in a case like this. You need to explain a situation like this to actual humans -- after giving them much guidance, of course -- and then say "Jury, it's up to you." As much as we academically-oriented folk may wish it weren't true, sometimes good arguments in briefs can't resolve a legal problem.

By the way, speaking as a guitarist and actual human ... and IP lawyer ... I'm betting Coldplay is going down. Settle this one, boys.
12.6.2008 9:09pm
The Cabbage (mail):
As an aside. Those of you not familiar with Satchmo's work should take some time and listen.

the guy friggin' rocks.
12.6.2008 9:29pm
WHOI Jacket:
In probably late with the obligatory "You mean it's not Radiohead doing the suing?"
12.6.2008 9:32pm
TerrencePhilip:
By the way, speaking as a guitarist and actual human ... and IP lawyer ... I'm betting Coldplay is going down. Settle this one, boys.


Not, of course, after the lawyers do some pleadings and discovery. Strictly for due diligence, of course. :)

As a matter of curiosity: do bands like Coldplay have insurance that covers their defense in matters like this? I've never done IP work but a friend of mine at an insurance firm defended a restauranteur in a trademark suit brought by another restaurant over whether the restaurant name was too similar to that of the plaintiff's; he mentioned that of course his client wanted to fight to the death because it "wasn't his money."
12.6.2008 9:38pm
Leland (mail):
Cardozo'd:
Andrew Hoepfner plays with Creaky Boards and their song is called "The Songs I Didn't Write". Post's post regards Guitarist Joe Satriani's song "If I could Fly".

I'm responding because I heard about the previous claim by Creaky Boards and remember hearing a quote from Chris Martin's lawyer that they had ample evidence that Martin never attended the concert, and in fact was on the other side of the US at the time Hoepfner that he saw Martin in the audience.

read more here
12.6.2008 10:16pm
U.Va. Grad:
However, if you want to play a fun game, you can find these "substantial similarities" all over rock music.

My personal favorite is the chorus of Rush's "Stick It Out" and the verse of Pearl Jam's "Go." The two albums they're on--Counterparts by Rush and Vs. by Pearl Jam--were both released on Oct. 19, 1993. That week, Vs. was #1 on the charts and Counterparts was #2.

Anyway, see for yourself:

Go (starting at 0:30)
Stick It Out (starting at 0:50)
12.6.2008 11:27pm
AndrewK (mail):
To me the interesting question is damages.

When a big artist with a huge market to draw from copies a less-pervasive artist, ill-gotten profits as a part of relief is at least inefficient.

Satriani could be benefiting from the infringement, both in terms of sheer profit for this particular song, but also for exposure the lawsuit brings him.
12.6.2008 11:34pm
Bruce:
Those of you not familiar with Satchmo's work should take some time and listen. the guy friggin' rocks.

Yes, Louis Armstrong rocks. I assume that's who you're talking about.
12.6.2008 11:41pm
dannymo:

The case is a loser. This (ii - V - vi) is one of the most common progressions in music theory — which, I assure you, would be considered at trial

As a side note, this could serve to illustrate why pop music sucks.

Q.E.D.


Not to be snarky, but neither song uses ii - V - vi.

The coldplay song is IV-V-I-vi (IVmaj7-V7sus-Imaj9-vi, to be more specific) and the Satriani one is ii-V-I-vi. And the use of the use of the major seventh to begin the melody (or 9th, in the case of Satriani) is actually pretty sophisticated for a pop song. (which might be an argument that Chris Martin had 'help' in coming up with it)
12.7.2008 1:18am
GatoRat:
Some rather damning quotes from

"We’re one of the world’s worst, but most enthusiastic plagiarists, as a band. We’ll try and copy anything but tend to fail so we come up with something that sounds like us, only through trying to sound like somebody else."

"The key rule was that we could steal from anybody except ourselves."

Chris Martin in an interview about recording the album Viva La Vida.
12.7.2008 1:43am
NicholasV (mail):
FWIW, there's a track from their previous album ("X &Y") titled "Talk" which is a direct copy of Kraftwerk's "Computerlove". However, I heard that they asked for permission to use the melody beforehand.
12.7.2008 5:00am
NicholasV (mail):
12.7.2008 5:12am
akash (mail) (www):
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12.7.2008 6:02am
Gibson Dunn Paul Reed Smith Guitars:
Why do people imagine that Satriani is "pop"? Coldplay is pop. Satriani is a guitar rock shredder type thing.
12.7.2008 6:29am
Phil Smith (mail):
Stravinsky once said (and this phrase might not even be original to him) good artist borrow, great artists steal.

I've heard that attributed to Poe.
12.7.2008 10:53am
Bruce:

Stravinsky once said (and this phrase might not even be original to him) good artist borrow, great artists steal.

I've heard that attributed to Poe.


Hmm. I've seen it attributed to T.S. Eliot. I'm beginning to suspect none of those people actually said it.
12.7.2008 1:04pm
Richard A. (mail):
Now that I've listened to it twice, I've changed my mind. Coldplay had better hope Satriani ripped that melody off from somewhere else. Otherwise it's going to be tough to defend.
But they certainly improved on his idea.
12.7.2008 1:37pm
Fub:
Bruce wrote at 12.7.2008 1:04pm:
Hmm. I've seen it attributed to T.S. Eliot. I'm beginning to suspect none of those people actually said it.
Bartleby has the text of Eliot's
The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism.

For context, most of the paragraph containing the quote:
We turn first to the parallel quotations from Massinger and Shakespeare collocated by Mr. Cruickshank to make manifest Massinger's indebtedness. One of the surest of tests is the way in which a poet borrows. Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different from that from which it was torn; the bad poet throws it into something which has no cohesion. A good poet will usually borrow from authors remote in time, or alien in language, or diverse in interest. Chapman borrowed from Seneca; Shakespeare and Webster from Montaigne. The two great followers of Shakespeare, Webster and Tourneur, in their mature work do not borrow from him; he is too close to them to be of use to them in this way. Massinger, as Mr. Cruickshank shows, borrows from Shakespeare a good deal. ...
12.7.2008 3:02pm
Richard A. (mail):
I thought there was a melody that both of these reminded me of. It just came to me. The main melody is quite reminiscent of the melody to "Hearts" by Marty Balin, formerly of the Jefferson Airplane. So get yourself a lawyer, Marty, and go after both of them.
12.7.2008 3:44pm
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
Jon Rowe,

Maybe they were all high on marijuana, heard a cool tune with a catchy melody, forgot about it and then viola the song "comes out" of Chris Martin without realizing it.

Hey! As a violist, I resent the disparaging implications here. Sometimes we do it on purpose.
12.7.2008 4:40pm
Fub:
Michelle Dulak Thomson wrote at 12.7.2008 4:40pm:
Hey! As a violist, I resent the disparaging implications here.
Uh oh.
12.7.2008 5:32pm
Dr. T (mail) (www):
AndrewK (mail) said:
When a big artist with a huge market to draw from copies a less-pervasive artist, ill-gotten profits as a part of relief is at least inefficient.

Satriani could be benefiting from the infringement, both in terms of sheer profit for this particular song, but also for exposure the lawsuit brings him.

Are you serious? Joe Satriani is better known than the Johnny-come-lately band Coldplay. Satriani has sold more than ten million albums. Fourteen albums received Grammy award nominations for Best Rock Instrumental Performance. His top-selling albums go back to the late 1980s, and his recent concert DVDs and studio albums still have respectable sales. I think Joe's just miffed that a rip-off song is part of Coldplay's latest multi-Grammy album.
12.7.2008 7:38pm
AndrewK (mail):
I completely agree. But think if Akon (another Johnny-come-lately) sampled Smokey Robinson (who was hugely successful) without attribution. AT THIS MOMENT, Coldplay is "in" in the relevant sense.

I'm not making a value-judgment or any statement about popularity over time.
12.7.2008 9:31pm
TyrantLimaBean:
The story's more complicated:

Back in August a band called Creaky Boards claimed Coldplay stole the song from them (and claimed that Chris Martin had been at one of their shows.) The band said they had no intention of suing, and it was later shown that Chris Martin wasn't even in the country when the gig occurred.

Now Satriani sues, BUT all three songs (Creaky Boards, Coldplay, and Satriani) are predated by one written by a popular Argentine rock group called 'Los Enanitos Verdes.' Their song 'Frances Limon' was recorded in 2002, and the Satriani song sound like a blatant rip-off of it. (Where as the Coldplay/Creaky Boards ones are less similar).

If I were in Coldplay I'd be happily cutting some deal with Los Enanitos Verdes; one that included the Argentines suing Satriani for copyright infringement.
12.8.2008 11:51am
Sebastian H (mail):
The really weird thing is that when I first heard the Coldplay song, I would have sworn that the intro was familiar to me from another song. But having heard the Satriani song, I’m absolutely certain that song is not the one I was thinking of.

There is a more popular song (though I can’t remember which one) that I hear on the radio every month or so which always makes me think I’m about to hear PJ Harvey’s “Down By the Water”. Hook--(Little Fish Big Fish Swimming in the Water, Come Back Here Man Give Me My Daughter) But it isn’t.
12.8.2008 12:57pm
krs:
12.8.2008 6:53pm
Zack Simmen (mail):
I'm a musician and there has been many times were I have written a song and later someone has pointed out to me that hey that sounds like this and a little bit of this... or even hey man i wrote a song just like that 5 years ago check it out... and i've never ever heard it... on a guitar you can be very limited... basically 7 chords in a key... but these songs sound very very similar... I love Coldplay.... been a big fan for years... been to many shows... and i am not even upset if they did hear this song and use that melody... they obviously changed it with the drums and the "pounding" in the song whch may i add makes this song in my opinion... but did he break the law is the question here... maybe he did... i thank him for breaking the law though cause i like his version much better than joe's.... :) Thanks Chris!
12.11.2008 9:36am
Zack Simmen (mail):
I'm a musician and there has been many times were I have written a song and later someone has pointed out to me that hey that sounds like this and a little bit of this... or even hey man i wrote a song just like that 5 years ago check it out... and i've never ever heard it... on a guitar you can be very limited... basically 7 chords in a key... but these songs sound very very similar... I love Coldplay.... been a big fan for years... been to many shows... and i am not even upset if they did hear this song and use that melody... they obviously changed it with the drums and the "pounding" in the song whch may i add makes this song in my opinion... but did he break the law is the question here... maybe he did... i thank him for breaking the law though cause i like his version much better than joe's.... :) Thanks Chris!
12.11.2008 9:36am

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