The problem of copyright and music

By: Riley Hodges

Listen to “Ice Ice Baby” by Vanilla Ice and “Under Pressure” by Queen with David Bowie. They are basically the exact same instrumental tracks.

The last thing anyone would want is someone else to make money off of something they made. However, the possibility of two people making very similar popular songs is extremely high.

There have been many many lawsuits over copyright claims that involve a group/artist being upset because a different group/artist released a song that had certain similarities. 

The outcome of the “Ice Ice Baby” / “Under Pressure” lawsuit was that Vanilla Ice had to give Queen writing credits and royalties. 

A common similarity of chord progressions and beats per minute (BPMs) are easy to imitate. There are only seven notes to choose from and after thousands of years of music, it’s just about impossible to be original. Officials estimate the number of songs released ranges from 97-230 MILLION.

Despite this fact, it is still quite common for people to sue over chord progressions. In 2016, Led Zeppelin was sued by the estate of Randy Wolfe over their hit “Stairway to Heaven” because the iconic riff sounded very similar to Spirit’s 1968 track “Taurus.” Wolfe’s estate claimed Zeppelin and Spirit shared stages in the late 60’s which is how the band was exposed to “Taurus” and copied it.  

In the end, Led Zeppelin won the case after pointing out that the descending progression is a heavily common aspect of music and that their song was written before they ever heard “Taurus.” 

However, some people truly steal from other artists. Most common cases are when an artist samples another song without permission, but sampling is a major part of the hip hop genre.

The main problem is that the line between being similar enough and not similar enough is an awkward gray area where there isn’t a seemingly possible way to create a fair defining line between what can be copyright and what can’t be.


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