With each passing year, it’s getting tougher and tougher to be original. There are only so many ways you can organize notes on the Western case into a pleasing melody. Duplication–unintentional repetition of note sequences once used someone else at some point in the past–is inevitable.
People need to stop harping about how one song sounds a lot like another song from forty years ago. That may be true, but in 99.9% of the cases, the new song’s melody/hook/arrangment was discovered independently and without prior knowledge of the old one. And the simpler and catchier the melody, the greater the chance that it’s been used before.
Here’s my favourite example. Sum 41’s 2002 album, Does This Look Infected?, featured this big single.
Got that? A bunch of snotty kids from Ajax, Ontario, cranking out a solid punk-pop ditty. But then it was pointed out that back in 1997–five years earlier–an Italian singer named Nek released a single called “Almena Stravolta.”
For Sum 41 to have plagiarized “Alemana Stravolta,” you have to prove that they had prior knowledge of the song and deliberately ripped it off. What are the chances of them grabbing what would have been the melody to an Italian song? Yes, “Alemana Stravolta” was a hit in Europe, but seriously, what are the odds of a bunch of Ajax punks hearing it in an era when the Internet was still very, very young when it came to music?
A more convincing case might be made against a K-Pop group called Norazo. In 2011, they released a track called “King of Sales.”
Given that Sum 41 had a sizeable following in Japan, it’s not unreasonable to assume that the writers of “King of Sales” had been exposed to “Still Waiting.”
This brings me to the latest case of supposed plagiarism: Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” vs the family of Marvin Gaye.
A company called Bridgeport Music claims that “Blurred Lines” infringes upon Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up” because it “feels” and “sounds” the same. They also claim that there are similarities between “Blurred Lines” and a Funkadelic song called “Sexy Ways.”
Let’s listen to the evidence, shall we? We start with “Blurred Lines.” Pay close attention to the feel and the groove.
Now we move to Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up” from 1977.
Finally, here’s “Sexy Ways” from Funkadelic from 1974.
Is the groove and feel similar? Certainly. Does it evoke a bygone era in music. You bet. Was “Blurred Lines” influenced by these other two songs. Probably. But is this grounds for the serious charge–a crime–of plagiarism? If it is, though, that means you can copyright/trademark a rhythm and a groove. Doing that would open a whole universe of hurt.
Robin Thicke, Pharrell Williams and Clifford Harris Jr., the princples behind “Blurred Lines” have had enough. They’re proactively suing over those allegations made by Marvin Gaye’s family and Bridgeport Music. You can read all about it at the Hollywood Reporter.