This little snippet from today’s FiveThirtyEight’s Significant Digits caught my eye and started me wondering.
Kraftwerk, the pioneering German electronic band, has won a 20-year case in the European Court of Justice concerning a 2-second clip of its song “Metal on Metal.” The court ruled that two hip-hop producers could not sample the track without permission. The ruling “could have huge implications for the music industry” and also comes as an American court ruled against Katy Perry, holding that she copied 2013’s “Dark Horse” from a Christian rap song that Perry claims she had never heard. [BBC]
Are all these lawsuits about royalties? Copyright infringement?
The other night I went to a concert and heard a new piece by the composer Brett Dean. The piece, Reflections, was written in 2006 and one section contains to quote his own program notes, “…a quotation from a piano piece by Clara Schumann (Romanza in A Minor)….” The Dean piece was first on the program and the Schumann was played at the end. The quote was obvious. But I guess that Schumann is dead and any copyright has long expired.
But what of jazz? Musicians often quote from other musicians. No one sues. In fact it is almost a game to hear and recognize a quote. Much of the tunes quoted are recent and many are still under copyright. Take folk music as another example. Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ in the Wind takes it’s tune from an old slave song, No More Auction Block for Me. Folk music, and I think much of traditional country music, is using the same tunes with new words or maybe the same words with different tunes.
According to the CNN reporting on Katy Perry
Katy Perry’s 2013 song “Dark Horse” was copied in part from “Joyful Noise,” a song by Christian rap artist Flame, a Los Angeles jury decided Monday, according court filings obtained by CNN.
The unanimous decision from a nine-person jury came after a week-long trial, during which Perry testified about the track’s creation. She was not in the courtroom when the verdict was read, Variety reported.Flame, whose real name is Marcus Gray, argued that “Dark Horse” infringed on his copyright by using an underlying beat from his song without permission, according to court filings. Perry’s attorneys argued, in part, that the portion in question was too common and brief to be protected by copyright, Rolling Stone reported.
So I’m still confused and puzzled. What is the difference between what Perry did and what jazz musicians do every day? Maybe pop musicians and rappers just need to be more upfront about the fact they are quoting each other. Think of it as a compliment instead of theft. I think Clara Schumann would be happy to know that someone like Dean is still remembering her music.
Picture of Clara Schumann from brittanica.com.
There is a youtube video (https://youtu.be/fROzQ3frjYw) comparing the two songs and, as I expected, there is no rhythmic resemblance.