The Coldplay/Satriani Issue

If you’re not yet familiar with the Coldplay/Satriani issue the basic premise is that guitar artist Joe Satriani is suing the band Coldplay because he believes that a member of the band who attended one of his concerts copied some of his music and used it in one of their songs. We’re not talking about sampling or copying a part of a recording but actually copying the musical thought behind one part of the song. In any event you can get a brief idea of what I mean by watching one of the many videos on YouTube where they play the two sections one right after the other. To further complicate things it seems the original idea may have come from a third artist.

Being a bit of a music geek and copyright activist I find this all rather fascinating. After all there a a limited number of original chord progressions. My personal feeling is that you should not be able to own a chord progression at all. Music is built collectively over time by different artists listening to and learning from one another, it’s just how it works. In classical and solo piano music we have this as “variations on…” and the entire development of the Jazz genre is about artists hearing each others “sound” and tweaking it.

I would argue that allowing ownership of chord progressions is similar to allowing ownership of the writing concept that “the butler did it” or one of the many standard plots found in movies and TV. This is plain silly and should not be allowed. Clearly, despite having similar sections and feelings, they are different songs (they are not identical). While it is nice, courteous and polite to acknowledge your inspirations it should not be legally required, nor should you be required to get permission nor should you have to pay for these rights.

Much of the YouTube coverage of this is the simple laying of one track over (or next) to the other. If you’re interested in a much more in depth look at the music theory of chord progressions and knowing how the to melodies and harmonies relate to each other I highly recommend looking at the two part series on the music theory behind the accusations put together by the Creative Guitar Studio in Canada, which also has an accompanying web site.

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