Plagiarism: an act or instance of using or closely imitating the language and thoughts of another author without authorization and the representation of that author’s work as one’s own, as by not crediting the original author.
We live in a time where it seems like everything has already been done. As a music producer, I am constantly confronted with phrases like “it reminds me of….” or “cool song! It kind of sounds like….”. It can be unbelievably frustrating to spend days, or weeks on a song just to have it compared to something you never intended it to. Creators, musicians, songwriters and producers constantly strive for originality, but the perception of the listener is what really matters at the end of the day. We have no idea how our sound will be perceived.
So, is it plagiarism or just coincidence? Some major artist who have been confronted with lawsuits over plagiarism claim that they’ve never even heard the song they’ve been accused of ripping off. Could it be that two different people, at two different times, had the exact same idea? In my experience, I think it’s highly possible for two songs to sound very similar without any malice from one songwriter or another, you’ll just have slight variations in each version that makes it unique to its writer. Did Coldplay’s “Vida La Vida” rip off Joe Satriani’s “If I Could Fly”? Did Robin Thicke’s 2014 release “Blurred Lines” borrow from Marvin Gaye’s 1977 hit “Got to Give It Up”? And, did Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby” really steal from Queen’s “Under Pressure”? Or, is this all just one listener’s perspective versus another? In the eyes of all these accused artists, they unknowingly copied, stole, borrowed, or ripped off another piece of work.
Fast forward to this week, where legendary rock band Radiohead files suit against powerhouse pop singer Lana Del Rey over her song “Get Free”. Upon first listen, I was almost offended. “Creep”, the 1993 single for Radiohead is one of my all-time favorite songs. Hearing this track off her latest release made me wonder how neither the songwriters, musicians, producers and label didn’t question the validity of this song. How did it pass through the hands of a dozen or more industry professionals and not be compared to an iconic piece of work? Obviously, the lyrics are completely different, and the production is nothing alike, but the melody is almost spot on, note for note. Now, Radiohead wants 100% of the Publishing royalties from this song. Lana and her publisher have already offered more than 40% of the publishing royalties to the band, but frontman Thom Yorke has declined. This is where a judge will have to listen to both songs side by side and decide whether or not Lana Del Rey is guilty of plagiarism or not.
To make things even more complicated, Radiohead was sued by a band called The Hollies over this very same song! Songwriters Albert Hammond and Mike Hazlewood claimed that “Creep” was nothing but a copy of their song “The Air That I Breathe” from 1969. With an out of court settlement, and adding Hammond and Hazlewood as writers on “Creep”, the matter was resolved. Now, in the event a judge determines that “Get Free” is in fact too similar to “Creep”, not only will Radiohead get their publishing royalties, but Yorke, Hammond and Hazlewood may be awarded writing credits on this 2017 Lana Del Rey track.
Whether plagiarism is intentional or not, it’s not helping the music industry. When artists borrow from other songs, the listener is the one that feels taken advantage of. The consumers that pay for new, exciting music to add to their collections are the ones left with a bitter taste in their mouths. Moving forward, as creators, we should all do our best to create new sounds, with less sampled or “borrowed” compositions, and help grow the musical palate of our listeners and ourselves.
To learn more about the author, SONY/ATV Producer/Songwriter, Daniel Martin, please visit his website at: DMProducer.com