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It’s Getting Harder And Harder To Write A Song Without Committing Plagiarism

Music plagiarism post on Bobby Owsinski's Music Production Blog

It seems like every day there’s a new music plagiarism lawsuit that pops up. From “Stairway To Heaven” to “Blurred Lines” to the latest round of lawsuits against Dua Lipa’s “Levitating,” it just goes to show how difficult it is to write a song that isn’t subject to a plagiarism action these days.

Considering that so many recent hit songs are based around samples and beats, that limits song construction even further, which leads to more difficulty finding a sequence of notes or chords that hasn’t been used before. Plus the fact that the feel of the song is now taken into account (as with Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” coping the feel of Marvin Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up”), that makes coming up with not only something new, but something that’s pleasing to the ear, more and more seem like an impossibility.

So what constitutes plagiarism anyway? Lawyer/drummer Kurt Dahl (you can hear him on my podcast Episode 312) explains it clearly.

“The person claiming infringement must prove two things:

1) Access – that the infringer had heard, or could reasonably be presumed to have heard, the original song prior to writing their song; and

2) Substantial Similarity – that the average listener can tell that one song has been copied from the other. The more elements that the two works have in common, the more likely they are substantially similar.”

Music plagiarism lawsuits don’t usually come about unless a song becomes a big hit and the artist’s and songwriter’s pockets fill with money. It makes no sense to bring an expensive suit against someone just for the sake of winning. Otherwise, we’d see so many lawsuits that the judicial system would have to make additions to courthouses everywhere.

That said, my whole point is that it’s all too easy to come up with a song independently that still sounds like something else from the past. Below is a great video from 12Tone called “How Sheet Music Lies To You” that discusses the many ways music is noted around the world, and how that same series of notes can be interpreted in so many ways.

It’s an interesting, in depth watch, but you don’t need to stay through the entire video. The first few minutes is enough to make you think about how you’ve been creating music in a new light.

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