Copyright and Musical Credit

Copyright laws seek to protect authors, artists, composers, and other innovators whose creations are the presentation of their ideas into the media. Copyright provides these people ways to claim, protect, and even monetize their work. Under the current laws, there remain certain situations where the public may also have rights to use a work. In recent years, with the rise of the Internet, many things have caused these two sides, the creator (or their representatives) and the public, to be at odds. Perhaps one of the industries at the forefront of this conflict is the Music Industry. True innovation in music is hard to come by. Musical theories have been around at least since the Greeks, possibly well before them as well; however, the legal idea behind Copyright has only existed since the sixteenth century [1] [2].


Copyright covers the way in which one might present an idea, it does not cover the idea itself. This can cause havoc for music since many rhythms and musical progressions have been known for quite some time. Sampling, or using a small selection of the musical composition of a song, is something that has become increasingly popular with the rise of easily shared recordings [2]. Determining where the line can be drawn for artists using music similar to things that have been done previously. Recent court hearings such as the Marvin Gaye v. Robin Thicke suit, or the less recent Vanilla Ice v. Freddie Mercury and David Bowie show us how common it is among popular songs. Although many artists claim that sampling anywhere from ten seconds to a minute of a song does not constitute a Copyright infringement because it falls under fair use exceptions, most courts have not supported this claim because the artist is seeking to monetize the use of someone else’s work.

Cases involving copyright infringement are not frequent when one considers the vast majority of songs produced in a year. Many of the questionable songs are produced by small companies and won’t ever make much money. However in some circumstances, lawsuits will be brought against artists who appear to have used music of older, but still copyrighted and produced artists. Some of these cases can be settled quickly out of court, while others must opt to go through the courts instead. Most of these cases will end with the artist having to share artistic credit and future royalties with the artist of the previous work alongside potentially paying some sort of compensation [2]. However, in a few cases artists have had to completely forfeit any royalties to the owners of the original song. Such was the case for the Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony.” The band obtained rights of an orchestral version of the Rolling Stones’ “The Last Time” that belonged to a company separate to the Publisher for the Rolling Stones. The Rolling Stones publisher sued The Verve and obtained all rights to the song, even though The Verve had cited a copy of the song to a source [3].

Some cases of outrageous behavior are simply stunts to obtain awareness. Mike Blatt, a crossover artist in Britain, released an album containing one minute of pure silence. He facetiously credited this to John Cage who had previously produced a named silenced track. He proceeded to pay the Publishing Company who produced this track and they transferred the money to the John Cage Trust with no harm done by any party. Unfortunately, once the press got wind of this ordeal that Blatt put himself through, they began to go up in arms to defend him against a lawsuit for a copyright on silence [3].

In most cases, it seems to me that covering your bases and making sure that everyone involved with the production of your song, along with any previously produced songs that you may have “sampled” is the best way to protect against copyright. I don’t think that the public looks down on any artist who is good at remixing or who excels at producing music that seems to come from other sources. David Guetta, Calvin Harris, and other such artists are proof of this. However, artists like Vanilla Ice and Robin Thicke are viewed poorly for copying other artist’s works. Giving credit where credit is due, seems like such an easy thing to me. And I doubt it is ever worth the money these artists or production companies have to spend in court and lawyer fees.


[1] Hunter, Dan. Oxford Introductions to U.S. Law: Intellectual Property. 1st ed. New York: Oxford UP, 2012. Print.

[2] Demers, Joanna Theresa. Steal This Music: How Intellectual Propertey Law Affects Musical Creativity. 1st ed. Athens: U of Georgia, 2006. 1-87. <>

[3] Tsutsumi, Kengo. “‘Blurred Lines’ Copied This Song, and Other Famous Music Copyright Cases.” International Business Times. International Business Times, 11 Mar. 2015. Web. 15 Apr. 2015. <>.


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