Plagiarism, legal lunacy, or just a case of twouseless applications of one duh-obvious idea? MOJO's Mat Snow decides...Joe Satriani filed court papers in LAclaiming that Coldplay's hit "Viva La Vida" used "substantial originalportions" of his 2004 instrumental If "I Could Fly." The stunt-guitaristwants a jury trial and is seeking damages and "any and all profits"for the alleged plagiarism. In this day and age, where everybody is just apremium-rate call or text away from having a say, why stop with just 12 angrymen? We all want our two cents. Let the court rise...
Exhibit A: the monster mash: Unusually for a set of fingers famous for fizzingdown the frets, Joe was slow to punch his lawyer's number. His fans, however,have been on the case since June when not only was the resemblance between his2004 tune and the Coldplay hit noted in blog posts, but a smart alec mashed thetwo tunes together (to get them exactly in sync, Coldplay were speeded up toborderline Chipmunks pitch) and uploaded it to YouTube,with upgrades to follow. Good game!
But did Coldplayactually, to use that terrific Swiss Army knife word for disreputable deeds,'jack' the Satch's track? Let precedent be our guide...
Grand theft auto?: In 1969, John Lennon paid tribute to one of hisall-time heroes, Chuck Berry, by adapting the first line of the future bathroomvoyeur's "You Can't Catch Me" for the first line of his own "Come Together" ("Here come old flat-top, he comegrooving' up slowly") on The Beatles' AbbeyRoad, a tip of the titfer from a disciple to his master which acknowledgeda groovy classic and enriched the tradition without impoverishing the originalby so much as a cent in financial or cultural credit. And how did Chuck'spublisher, Morris Levy, respond? By proving copyright law an a** with a suitwhich forced Lennon to record a whole album of tunes from his catalogue.Fortunately, that album was the wonderful if currently unfashionable Rock 'N' Roll.
But with Satch vs theworld's second-favourite U2 soundalikes (after U2), we're not talking one line.We're talking the entire chord progression and basic melody--like the man says,"substantial original portions".
Self-abuse?: Twenty years ago John Fogerty found himself suing his own be-denimeda** for plagiarism when his old Fantasy label boss, Saul Zaentz, submitted thatthe new Fogerty tune, "The Old Man Down The Road," ripped off an old Fogerty tune, "RunThrough The Jungle"by Creedence Clearwater Revival, a Fantasy recording. Armed with his guitar,the Fog took the stand to demonstrate to the jury that while a cloth-earedmoney-grubber might not be able to distinguish one choogling tune from another,people who actually bought records surely could. Fogerty won (and lost).
Sadly, in the currentinstance, I could find no proof that "Satch" and the band who seem to haveinspired no affectionate nicknames whatsoever among the fans (not even "TheColdies" or "The Play") are one and the same.
The sweet Lord's inspiration?: Tunes--they come out of thin air, don't they? Sosaid George Harrison when accused by the publishers of The Chiffons' "He's SoFine" of copying thegal-group classic for his Krishna-worshipping global smash "My Sweet Lord." No dice, son, said the US federalcourt. Likewise Rod Stewart's unsuccessful defence of his hit "Da Ya Think I'mSexy" against a plagiarism suitfrom Brazilian musician Jorge Ben Jor proving its derivation from his song "TajMahal."
When the lawestablishes the legal similarity of one song to another, the copyright-owner ofthe second song has little defense against charges of copying from the first,however far removed the artists are in genre and circumstance. So even if youcannot imagine Keith Richards sitting down to enjoy the wistful Sapphicelegance of K.D. Lang, you can't deny the possibility that he might havehalf-cocked an ear to her 1992 hit "Constant Craving" if his missus had it on the kitchenradio when he popped to the fridge for a fresh blood transfusion. Hence theStones' forestalled any legal action just before the release of their 1997single "Anybody Seen My Baby?" bycutting in lang and co-writer Ben Mink to the credits, a simple courtesy andpainless payday that moved Kd to declare herself "completely honored andflattered".
The sentence: Fortunately, the American fondness for litigation is matched by theirjudicial creativity in apportioning redress. Checked out that mash-up yet?If the Coldplay tune is one of the most half-arsed in a long and dreary list offorgettable worldwide Number 1s, Satch's "If I Could Fly" is no Beck's Boleroeither. But jam them together and you have a full and glorious arse of a recordto stick in your iPod next to Tom Petty's "Free Fallin'" and Boston's "More Than A Feeling." Make 'em do it,your honour, with proceeds to the charity of Satch's choice. Justice is blind,but no reason for it to be deaf.
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