I remember a few years ago finishing up a new song and feeling
quite proud of myself for writing something very different than
my usual fare, only a day or two later to discover that I had
completely ripped off a melody and chord progression of a song I
had been listening to previously. It was disheartening and
frustrating, but of course I had to ditch the song! Plagiarism
seems to be a great fear in most of us…not just copying someone
else’s song, but having our own song plagiarized.
I wonder how many times this honestly happens, not just to those
of us who are relatively anonymous, but also to big name
songwriters? And when it happens and they realize it, do they do
the same thing and just ditch the song? You would hope so! Then
again, what if they don’t realize that a song they’ve written has
“been done” before but the song has already had a major release?
This is what happened when The Rolling Stones were about to
release the CD Bridges to Babylon in 1997 with a song called
“Anybody Seen My Baby” that had a very similar hook to KD Lang’s
song “Constant Craving”, released in 1992. Instead of waiting
for a lawsuit, however, clever Mick simply offered Lang writing
credits and shared profits from the song.
I am guessing that this is also what happened to Coldplay’s lead
singer and songwriter Chris Martin when he wrote Viva La Vida.
As it turns out, the melody and chord progression in parts of the
song are strikingly similar to another song released in 2005 by
Joe Satriani called “If I Could Fly”. But Satriani believes that
Martin knowingly stole his melody and progression and so he is
suing Coldplay as a result. There have been a lot of arguments
between fans of both artists as to who stole what, but on a
YouTube video you can watch a two-part video from an objective
viewpoint, examining each song from a theoretical perspective.
Now the theory might be over your head, but it also might teach
you a lot about what might be viewed as plagiarism:
If you are interested in other examples of similar-sounding
songs, on the Prolific Magazine blog, Joshua Kraus compares what
he calls “The 8 Most Blatantly Plagiarized Songs”:
Not all of these songs involved lawsuits, but there are some
interesting comparisons, and all are worth digging around in your
CD collection to have a listen to.
Interestingly enough, another obscure band called Creaky Boards
has also claimed that Coldplay’s Viva La Vida is a rip-off of
their song “The Songs I Didn’t Write” (isn’t that title a strange
coincidence!). Jared Morris of WGMD does a comparison of these
two songs on YouTube:
Of course, the accusations are flying back and forth, but the
reality is that plagiarism is hard to prove, and I do think it’s
quite possible for two songwriters to inadvertently come up with
very similar melodies. Most songwriters have melodies floating
around in our heads all of the time and how are we to know if
they are original or not? There are only so many notes and so
many common chords.
But as to who stole what from whom, I’ll leave that up to the
courts, and you!