Song Copyright and suing. Is any song really original?
The suing culture of the 21st Century is getting out of hand. Here we look at Song Copyright, writing original songs and when it’s right (and wrong) to be suing people over your work.
There are many examples out there of famous artists being sued for copying other people’s songs; the latest being Dienel who is suing Justin Bieber and producer Skrillex for ‘sampling’ or copying a vocal riff from their song ‘Ring the Bell’ in the hit record ‘Sorry’. Well, no offence to Dienel but I have never heard the song ‘Ring the Bell’ before in my life even though I now see it was highly praised by Rolling Stone magazine; and therefore had I come up with a similar riff I would not have been deliberately copying that track, but that wouldn’t have stopped me being sued of course, because how do you prove what you’ve never heard?
Skrillex has reponded with the video below, which shows how they came about getting that vocal riff – and it clearly shows some simple original sample making, coming across something that just sounds great, which is a staple part of writing original songs.
So I pose the question “Is any song really original?”
When we talk about song copyright and who owns original works I think it’s important to realise that even if you think you’re writing original songs, you are actually re-ordering and re-making many different songs that you’ve heard in your lifetime depending on your culture, background and the types of music you’ve been exposed to. We learn from others and write in similar ways – you can see this as far back in history as you care to go. Nobody was writing pop songs in the Baroque period, they were writing baroque music and in the classical period they wrote similar music to each other and in the 80s the whole feel of chart music was different to how it is now. So why is everyone suing everybody else all the time?!
When somebody actually uses a sample from somebody else’s song without permission, or copies the whole backing to a song as has happened before then suing is a proper remedy for recompense, but if you are writing original songs by yourself or with other people you are bringing together everyone’s experiences and backgrounds to make an original work and sometimes it’s impossible not to write something similar to a song that is already out there.
Imagine the following scenario
Four people are writing original songs together. Each person is chipping in with ideas and one of them introduces a melody (let’s say similar to ‘Ring the Bell’); and they do so because it’s come naturally to them, they have heard ‘Ring the Bell’ before but they are not consciously trying to copy it. The other three in the group have not heard the song before and love what they are making so the song gets finished and just to be sure that no song copyright has been infringed they use an app like Shazam to check if their song comes up as something else. It won’t, because as a whole the song is totally different, so it gets released. Should someone be suing them for this? I’ll leave that up to you but perhaps it would be worthwhile to point you to the following video of multiple hit records that all use exactly the same chord pattern below: