Nothing is Original. Everything is influenced from something hidden is the psyche imagesfrom an earlier time. A book, a piece of music, a film or a memorable speech will influence us in some way for the rest of our lives. We all hear or see the ghosts from the past when we sit down to create something all our own. Most of the time, its unconscious. Even if we are aware of a major influence over our art, we truly believe that when we finish our creation, no one has ever heard it before. But is it really our own?

For decades, artists have been squabbling over copyright infringement. A similar guitar riff, a hooky chorus, or an all too familiar melody reminiscent of a past hit song can start the legal wheels in motion. Are artists consciously deciding to rip off  fellow artists or is it purely a nod or tribute to a powerful influence that couldn’t be shaken?Have you ever written a song that once released came under fire from fans of another artist who had a very similar tune? Worse yet, have you been called out by the artist themselves for stealing their tune?It happens every day. The question is: is it truly deliberate?

One of the most publicized cases of alleged copyright infringement was George Harrison’s tune, My Sweet Lord”which according to Bright Tunes was stolen from the song, “He’s So Fine”written by Ronnie Mack, which was part of their catalog.

Harrison said at the time,Share2

“I wasn’t consciously aware of the similarity when I wrote the song. “But once it started to get a lot of airplay, people started talking about it, and it was then I thought, ‘Why didn’t I realize?’ It would have been very easy to change a note here or there and not affect the feeling of the record.”

In the end Harrison was guilty of “subconsciousness plagiarism” and was ordered to pay $1,599,187 of the earnings from “My Sweet Lord” to Bright Tunes. Harrison never made any money from the song, it always stayed in escrow. He stated, “As Far as I’m concerned the effect of the song has far exceeds any bitching from copyright people and their greed and jealousy.”

Did the case change the way the fans viewed Harrison or the International number one hit?There is really no evidence to indicate that it did. “Subconsciousness Plagiarism”: not deliberately engaging in plagiarism but experiencing it as a memory. How can people possibly be responsible for their influences on memory?Fascinating premise. KatyPerrySemi

Katy Perry is the most recent artist to come under fire for infringement with her number 1 tune, “Roar.” “Roar” has been widely compared to Sara Bareilles’ catchy pop song “Brave,” which was released earlier this year  and of which Perry was a fan.

Then when Perry Released her new lyric video for “Roar” on Monday, the pop superstar was hit again with accusations of stealing her video concept from electronic music producer Dillon Francis. Read more from the Daily News.

Another artist who is no stranger to murmurs of plagiarism is Lady Gaga. When Gaga released her hit song, “Born This Way,”it was strikingly similar to Madonnas 1989 mega hit, “Express Yourself.”

ABC News Announced that Madonna was finally breaking her silence about the controversial Gaga tune during a TV “20/20” exclusive interview.

ABC NEWS’ ALICE GOMSTYN and JIM DUBREUIL REPORT: Nearly a year after Lady Gaga released her hit single “Born This Way,” Madonna is finally offering her take on the song  … and it’s not exactly enthusiastic. Gaga has long expressed her admiration for Madonna, calling the pop icon an inspiration. Comparisons between the two divas have been inevitable, from their dance-hall beats to their risqué musical treatment of sex and religion. The two even teamed up for a “catfight” skit on “Saturday Night Live” in 2010.

Both women actually got boosts to their careers from the controversy and seemed to have a good time making light of it. Hilarious Video.

Even though Madonna and lady Gaga seemed to take the whole controversy in stride, serious copyright infringement can destroy careers, break up bands and leave artists destroyed and penniless. Stealing someone Else’s music is no joke.  Every artist should legally copyright their music to protect themselves and their catalogs. Writing your name on the disc with the date doesn’t count. Not if you are challenged in a court of law. Sampling also requires permission from the copyright owner so don’t be fooled into thinking you can use 30  seconds of  a song with no legal ramifications. They WILL come after you. You may use 10% of a copyrighted piece of music for face-to-face instruction directly related to your course content. For example if you are teaching on the transition of Classical to Romantic eras of music and you play a 10% piece of a Beethoven composition, this could fall under fair use. However, You may NOT safely use in a video, pod-cast, broadcast, Powerpoint or synchronize with any other form of multimedia without written permission from the copyright holder. So educate yourself and don’t guess if you aren’t sure. It’s not worth losing everything you have worked for just because  it was a hassle to get permission to use a sample.

While you are busy going online to copyright all your original music through the Library of Congress, here are some famous copyright infringement plagiarism cases to remind you of the importance of protecting your music catalog!

4 Responses to Beg Borrow or Steal

  1. Dennis says:

    Everything we do is based on everything that came before. Otherwise there would not be genres. With only 12 notes to work with it’s no wonder that sometimes we borrow from our past musical memories. All we can do is be diligent in making sure we have not “borrowed” too closely. I do an internet search or three to make sure no one has the same song idea or melody. If I find something close, I change what I have. I read that Harlan Howard had hits by re-writing the lyrics to songs that were already hits, then going back and re-writing the melody so no one would recognize the song. Maybe by doing it intentionally, we could avoid the accidental steal.

  2. Nikki says:

    While learning a lot from the music business, the number one thing that I am ALWAYS cautious about is plagiarism. I ask my artists when I hear a new song from them, where did you get the beat, who did you get it from, we need to call them and find out where they got it from….its hard to get the easy from hip hop artists that lease beats. Then if the song comes out pretty awesome, they want to get the exclusives. However, they need to be careful not to buy exclusives if the beat itself was a remixed or sampled from another song. Its just too easy to not know if the beat is original or not.

  3. Funny story that goes along with this concept: I received a free ticket to see Kid Rock perform in Raleigh a few years ago. When I asked my friend who gave me the ticket, and was working at the event, if he enjoyed it, he said, “Yeah, it was a good show….if you like cover bands.”

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