Coldplay face Satriana in plagiarism claim

January 2009

Music publishing

By Cassandra Williams, postgraduate law student, the College of Law

Joe Satriani, American guitarist and session musician has claimed that the melody in the title track from the recent Coldplay album, ‘Viva La Vida’, is taken from his instrumental song ‘If I Could Fly’. He has now brought legal proceedings at the LA Federal Court, alleging the band used “substantial original portions” of his song. The guitarist has told reporters that suing Coldplay over his plagiarism allegations was the last thing he wanted to do, but that his hand was forced after the band refused to talk to him about the issue. Speaking to MusicRadar he said he wasn’t taking legal action out of “malice”, but that: “I’m just doing what I need to do as an artist, to protect what’s mine, to protect those feelings I put down in song. I did everything to prevent the case going to court, but Coldplay didn’t want to talk about it”. When he first heard the Coldplay song he claimed it “felt like a dagger went right through my heart”. It wasn’t only Satriani that recognised the similarities as he explains that “Almost immediately, from the minute their song came out, my e-mail box flooded with people going, ‘Have you heard this song by Coldplay? They ripped you off”. Coldplay have responded to Satriani’s copyright infringement lawsuit, claiming any similarity between their song ‘Viva La Vida’ and his song ‘If I Could Fly’ is the result of good old fashioned coincidence. Coldplay have told reporters: “If there are any similarities between our two pieces of music, they are entirely coincidental, and just as surprising to us as to him. Joe Satriani is a great musician, but he did not write the song ‘Viva La Vida’. We respectfully ask him to accept our assurances of this and wish him well with all future endeavours”. However it is not unprecedented for copyright infringement cases to rely on so called subconscious infringement, whereby the infringer doesn’t deliberately steal someone else’s music, but subconsciously hears the other track and then uses it in their own piece, assuming it to be original work. Therefore Martin may have his work cut out for him if the case is heard in court. In the UK the Verve lost 100% of both their songwriting royalties and their sound recording royalties after using an orchestral sample from the Rolling Stones’ ‘The Last Time’ within their hit single ‘Bittersweet Symphony’. Both the song and a section of the sound recording produced by Andrew Loog Oldham were used in the Verve track. Although the band had a limited licence to use the sound recording sample, they settled with the song’s publishers ABKCO who claimed infringement and ABKCO became the owners of the song copyright and Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, not The Verve, are credited as songwriters of the track. The Verve also yielded 100% of the record royalties from ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ and when it came to a Grammy nomination, the track was credited to the Stones and not the Verve.

For more on the legalities of music sampling see ‘The Song remains the same’ on this site (ARTICLES):

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