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A hit, a writ: why music is the food of plagiarism lawsuits

Have you written a song? A song so memorable that everyone who hears it starts humming it? A song so good it feels as though it has been around forever and you simply plucked it from the ether? Then a word of advice: get an expert to listen to it. Because somewhere, someone is going to be sure your song was copied from theirs.

An old music industry adage holds that “where there’s a hit, there’s a writ”. It was true in 1963, when the Beach Boys released Surfin’ USA, and Chuck Berry duly noted that the song was simply his own 1958 hit Sweet Little Sixteen with new lyrics (Berry’s publisher, Arc Music, was granted the publishing rights, and from 1966 Berry was listed alongside Brian Wilson as a writer of the song). And it’s especially true now after several recent cases.

March alone saw two important judgments about music theft in appeals courts in California. First the ninth circuit court of appeals ruled that Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven did not crib from Taurus by Spirit. Then a federal court overturned last year’s jury verdict that Katy Perry’s Dark Horse had stolen from the song Joyful Noise by the Christian rapper Flame.

Katy Perry performing Dark Horse in Los Angeles in 2014. A federal court in March overturned a 2019 verdict that the song had stolen from Flame’s Joyful Noise. Photograph: Youtube

What’s important, though, is not whether anyone was plagiarised, but whether a copyright was infringed. Plagiarism and

Article source: https://www.theguardian.com/law/2020/mar/26/a-hit-a-writ-why-music-is-the-food-of-plagiarism-lawsuits

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