The Viva La Vida Plagiarism Controversy

If you haven’t heard, Joe Satriani is suing Coldplay for plagiarism.  Their latest single “Viva La Vida” does sound a lot like Joe’s song “If I Could Fly”.  But plagiarism is hard to prove, there is a lot more to it than just comparing notes, so to speak.  In the above video a fellow from a guitar website tries to analyze each song from a theoretical perspective.  Part of it is (yawn) a bit too theoritically dull for me!

Many of you newer songwriters worry a LOT about people stealing your songs or lyrics.  The fact is, of course that it is possible to do so once you expose your music by posting it on the internet, on YouTube or in forums, for instance.  But much of what newer writers come up with is rather sophomoric and cheesy at first, until they hone their craft and find their own voice.

Much of what a plagiarism lawsuit is about is proving that the song could have been heard in some form or another by the plagiarist.  Giving that Satriani’s album was released to the public, it doesn’t take a huge leap of faith to imagine that it could have possibly been heard by Chris Martin, the main songwriter in Coldplay.  Even if he had been exposed to it, it’s also possible that his memory of it was very subliminal and repeating it in his own writing could have been quite unintentional.

In 1997 when the Rolling Stones were about to release the single “Anybody Seen My Baby”, they realized that the melody of the hook in that song was almost identical to kd Lang’s “Constant Craving”.  Mick Jagger, being the smart guy he is (who wants to spend a lot of money on lawyers?), called Lang up and offered her a portion of the royalties and songwriting credit.  This certainly wasn’t a case of intentional plagiarism, and they just decided it was smarter to share credit, etc., than go through the whole mess of a potential lawsuit.

Personally, I think Coldplay should do the same.  They all have lots of money, so it’s probably more about ego than anything else.  Put the ego aside, share the credit and move on!

What do you think?


Update May 7/09 – Apparently Cat Stevens, who is now known as Yusuf Islam, is also contemplating a suit against Coldplay for plagiarising his song. “My son brought it to my attention and said: ‘Doesn’t that sound like ‘Foreigner Suite?” the musician told “The song definitely sounds like it. It has such logical chords and the melody has to be what it is…“.  What is it about that song??  – IJ

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  1. Just wanted to thank you for this. The first time I heard Coldplay’s song I knew I had heard it before but wasn’t certain when or by whom. It felt as if I was hearing a remake of a tune from my past. Your musical explanation was very informative.

  2. Joe Satriani has nothing to do with Bon Jovi, he’s a solo guitar instrumentalist. You’re thinking of Richie Sambora.

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