Friday, December 12, 2008

Did Coldplay steal a song?

On the heels of the band Coldplay's recent 7 Grammy nominations comes news that Joe Satriani is suing the band for infringement, saying they copied "substantial portions" of his song "If I Could Fly" from his album Is There Love In Space.

Earlier this year, a similar claim was made by another band, Creaky Boards.

Joe Satriani is not suing Creaky Boards.

Just for comparison, here's another song that uses the same chord progression.

A music teacher on YouTube has made a quick theory analysis of the two songs.

It's pretty clear the VI VII III I progression has great appeal to writers, as it can accomodate more interesting melodies (IMHO), so the question really becomes about the melody.

The fact that many of these songs share a near identical tempo is interesting....perhaps the combination of tempo and chords/keys lend themselves to certain melody possibilities. And the pentameter of the melodies is very strong, Coldplay's in particular seeming to pulse in a brilliant way (Brian Eno produced the Coldplay album. Eno is a master at his craft.)

My limited legal understanding of Satriani's position is he does not have to prove intent to infringe, meaning he doesn't have to demonstrate that Coldplay *knew* of his music before they wrote "Viva la Vida", only that the music is similar enough to constitute infringement.

I think many people confuse the issue: Satriani's not claiming Coldplay "stole" his music, only that they published a composition that technically wasn't original. He may agree they came up with the chords/melody independently, but that's not the issue: he published it first, therefore, it's his.

As producers, one of our challenges is to create something original, new, and fresh while still familiar and accessible. Sooner or later, chords, melodies and arrangments will collide - it's simply mathematical chance.

I hope this is a case of amazing synchronicity, rather than a case where Coldplay (and by association, Brian Eno) simply pilfered someone else's work.