Can anything really be created from scratch? How do we discern influence and plagiarism? Does a sound belong to the engineer, artist or piece of equipment?
We’re all influenced somehow by something, while being surrounded by influences and peers, while also disliking another’s work and working against what we dislike is shaping our own work. Arguably, I’ve created a recording through my equipment, on my property (studio), so in the absence of a contract, who owns the files & recordings? The band owns the ‘music’, but do I own the recordings that were created when the band played their music while knowingly being captured by my microphones? The ‘first owner of copyright’ is the person who payed for the recording/s. Who owns a recording that I do in a studio? Am I a band’s employee? So if a band doesn’t pay? What if I’m working for free, and I’m actively seeking clients?
I’ve begun to ask where we draw the line between influence and plagiarism. It’s difficult to draw the line because it could be argued that an artists with a song that sounds similar (or in these examples, identical) hadn’t heard the original songs they’d plagiarised. The chorus (starts at 0:44) of Boston’s 1976 single ‘More Than A Feeling’ features a guitar riff similar enough to the anethemic Australian song Hunters and Collectors (H&Cs) ‘Holy Grail’ that the songs could be confused with each other. However, H&Cs released the album ‘Cut’ almost 20 years later in March 1993 with no plagiarism repercussions.
While on the subject of Boston’s ‘More Than A Feeling’, the intro sounds very similar to the intro Elton John’s ‘Screw You’, which was released a mere 3 years prior to Boston’s track.
It’s difficult to decipher between influence, plagiarism and sampling as all are grey areas. Arguably, music has standards which are used often, particularly in western music. Is 12 bar blues common because the writer and owner of the music is long dead? Westerner music uses a lot of the same chord structures, because they pleasing to the ear. If N.W.A. had played the guitar lick in 100 Miles and Runnin’, would there be a lawsuit? Arguably they could have recorded it at the original tempo and still slowed and manipulated the audio to fit the song. Where do we draw the line between plagiarism and adhering to conventional music ‘rules’?
While the chords in the songs discussed above are more easily recognisable and therefore easier to claim as one’s work, who owns copyright for products like EzyDrummer or Steven Slate Drums? Toontrack and Steven Slate worked to create the samples, you’ve (hopefully) paid for the product – so when you layer an EzyDrummer snare under a real snare – is Andy Sneap entitled to anything
Who owns copyright when using my own drum samples? If I take a snare sample and use it on another record, is the original drummer/band entitled to any royalties or ownership? Arguably they’d never know, which leads to Techno Brega ‘business’ models. Techno Brega is a style of music that’s risen to popularity in Northern Brazil, based on samples and remixes. Techno Brega artists create and distribute their music by remixing songs in their homes and home studios, and getting their songs played at dance clubs and events in the hope that they’re music will be recognised and requested and they will gain popularity. Many of the artists accept they will never make money (or only once they have a massive global following) and focusing on spreading their music. While the scene is big in Brazil, the artists and labels of artists being sampled aren’t always aware their music is being used. To be fair, the music is played at big events where many people enjoy it, so why is this any different to having those songs on an album? Where do we draw the line between a band ‘covering’ a song in a live setting and being paid to play, and having a cover of the same song on an album that they lose money on because piracy is so easy? Why is Girl Talk’s music only an issue when he sells it on an album? Why aren’t his live shows an issue, legally? He has a following, might be turning a profit by playing shows using the same records and samples as on his album. How liable are any engineers or producers that he works with?
By that note, where does ’sampling’ end and fair use via parody or commentary begin? Grey areas like these are what lead artists to lawsuits (except of course those plagiarising on purpose) because regardless of no intention to sample or plagiarise, the original artists has a case. While I understand, respect and appreciate the thoughts behind the Pirate Bay (e.g. a rebellion against civil organisation of file sharing and copyright laws), artists (notably films and music) are being caught in the cross-fire and can’t make a living + privacy laws after TPB is caught out. Less money for record labels also leads to a tightening of piracy laws so the artists can get paid, as well as artists scrambling for funds and being motivated to take samplers or other artists to court.
In conclusion, copyright is something that will affect me, my clients, their record labels, my clients’ fans (and also people who dislike my clients’ music) and I should endeavour to answer ask the above questions I’m asking. While many areas are grey, I should ensure my work is black and white, as lawsuits aren’t something I’ve accounted for in my budget after the first week’s readings.
Hunters & Collectors – Holy Grail. (2016). YouTube. Retrieved 27 March 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iQI5fdVCvlU
Boston- More than A Feeling. (2016). YouTube. Retrieved 27 March 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SSR6ZzjDZ94
Elton John – Screw You (Yellow Brick Road 20 of 21). (2016). YouTube. Retrieved 27 March 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rYbTqAmVB88
Metal Machine EZX : Making Of (Expansion for EZdrummer). (2016). YouTube. Retrieved 27 March 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=StiwUfPn36s