So British superband of the moment Coldplay is being sued in Los Angeles for plagiarising guitarist Joe Satriani in their hit Viva la Vida. Joe says that the song – also the title of Coldplay’s fourth album “incorporated substantial, original portions of Plaintiff’s composition ‘If I Could Fly‘.”
Read the actual court document detailing the case against Coldplay here.
The court docs were filed last week – 4 December – and so of course, the Internet being the extraordinary global gossip network that it is, the story has swamped a million blogs and newspapers. Joe has done an interview with Music Radar saying that it “felt like a dagger went right through my heart” when he first heard Coldplay’s composition. Following the media frenzy, Coldplay has responded with a note on its website saying “if there are any similarities between our two pieces of music, they are entirely coincidental” and asking that Joe “respectfully accept our assurances” that they didn’t rip him off.
Something that always bugs me about stories covering lawsuits is that media outlets never provides links the documents themselves, so I thought I’d fix that and go grab the docs and post them here.
Meanwhile, the YouTubers have leapt into action, posting videos (more audio files with pics added) that play the clips apart and together. There is no doubt that the two songs have the same pace, the same melody, the same chord progression – and this has sparked an even bigger frenzy.
But back the court docs themselves. So far there have been four filings in case CV08-07987.
- The initial complaint filed on the 4th December (and entered into court on the 8th – after Joe gave his interview, so don’t think that Joe and his lawyers aren’t making as much of this as they can).
- A notice of interested parties – a legal thing and basically just a list of Coldplay members with their record label (Capitol)
- A copy of the filing of copyright infringement with the Copyright Office in Washington DC
- And a note that on 9 December that the case had been “heard” and had entered into the system with Judge Dean D. Pregerson presiding over the case.
So, what do the court docs actually say?
Well, that Mr Satriani is one of the “premier rock guitarists” in the world – which I have to admit is news to me as I’d never heard of him before now. But apparently he has sold 10 million albums – so it must be a US thing.
He alleges that the Coldplay song “copies and incorporated substantial, original portions of Plaintiff’s composition ‘If I Could Fly‘” and that there is a “substantial similarity between the two works”.
The case has three claims: Copyright Infringement; Constructive Trust (basically that Coldplay have received money that belong to him and so are “involuntary trustees”); and For An Accounting – which basically says that he doesn’t know how much Coldplay have earned from Viva la Vida and so that is why there isn’t an amount in the lawsuit that he is seeking.
He is however seeking “any and all profits of Defendants that are attributable to their acts of infringement” – basically any money at all that Coldplay have made from sales of the single, and quite possible from album sales and gigs where they have played the song.
As unlikely as that may seem, it has already happened once or twice in the past – most famously when The Verve had to give all the money it made from Bittersweet Symphony to The Rolling Stones because they stole the basic orchestral flow of the song.
However, Mr Satriani assertion that Coldplay – and everyone else – be prevented from playing the song while the court case in action is never going to happen and is just an example of an LA lawyer aiming for everything.
So, will Joe win?
Well, in cases such as this, it’s more a matter of proving how big you are, rather than being bigger than who you are suing. So, for example, George Harrison of The Beatles has to pay damages from his hit single My Sweet Lord because it was very similar to He’s So Fine by The Surpremes. The copying was unintentional, George said – and no one has any reason to disbelieve him – in much the same way we have no reason to disbelieve Coldplay when it says it unintentionally copied Joe’s music.
What Joe will have to prove is that he is a big enough fish. He doesn’t have to be as big as Coldplay but he should be a name that people already recognise. He fails that in my eyes, but then the court case is in America and I’m not American (although I am living here) so I’m a hopeless judge of his stature in the eyes of people here.
Will it mean the end of music as we know it? Nope. These things keep rolling on. Bigger principles than whether Coldplay can buy another mansion are at foot and they will barely notice the cash. If you want evidence of the fact that music will keep rolling on – consider the irony of The Verve singer Richard Ashcroft singing Bittersweet Symphony with Coldplay live on stage.
All interesting stuff that I’ll be following.
Possible conflict of interest: I think the lead singer of Coldplay, Christopher Martin, is a twat.