Why Beyoncé Can Steal My Music, and How You're All Breaking the Law.
June 7, 2015
You know, I told myself I wasn't going to blog. And here I am.
Just a little disclaimer: I have done quite a bit of research on copyright laws, but I'm not claiming to be an expert, so please correct me if anything I say here is inaccurate! And PLEASE comment with your opinions! I love a good argument! :)
I normally try to avoid getting political and offending people, but I have some pretty strong opinions on copyright laws. I've been reading up on music copyright lawsuits and honestly, most of them make me sick. Pop music is all just too similar for us to be going around trying to sue every person that wrote a song with a similar chord progression. And it bothers me that a jury, a group of people who are, for the most part, musically ignorant, are the ones making the decisions. (And don't even get me started on Marvin Gaye's daughter...who saw an opportunity to exploit the system for her own selfish gain, and then acted like she was doing it for the sake of her father's "legacy." Thank god those criminal musicians who admired her father and his music enough to be influenced by it are now being rightfully punished for their wrongdoings. All in the name of justice, folks. That $7.4 million had NOTHING to do with it.)
ALL songwriters and composers are infuenced by other musicians. ALL musicians steal and borrow ideas from other musicians. If they didn't, musical genres wouldn't exist. I don't want to live in a world where musicians can't follow their creative pursuits for fear of being sued by every artist who's done anything remotely similar. A bass line isn't what makes a song. A melody isn't what makes a song. A beat isn't what makes a song. An "overall vibe" isn't what makes a song. It's the combination of all those things (and so much more) that make up a song. (And what makes a song profitable is even more than that: artist image, vocal/instrumental performance, production quality, marketing stragegy, etc.) I'm not saying plagarism doesn't exist, but I think it's very obvious when you see it. And I think most of these disputes are fueled by greed.
And a lot of it isn't even deliberate borrowing. People CAN come up with similar melodies purely out of coincedence. I don't think Sam Smith was sitting there listening to that god-awful Tom Petty song going "Wow. That melody is just amazing. I'm gonna steal it." There is nothing remarkable about that melody. I bet thousands of little 13-year-old aspiring songwriters have written the exact same melody. Sam Smith's song is unique (and better...) because of what he DID with that melody.
One thing that is considered in these music plagarism lawsuits is "access," aka whether the person accused of plagarism could have heard the song they allegedly stole from. For example, let's say I write a song, register the copyright, put it on my youtube channel with 0 subscribers, and have a total of 10 views. Then, a few months later, Beyoncé writes the exact same song and makes millions of dollars off of it. I would NOT be able to win a lawsuit with Beyonce because she has clearly not heard my song, even though I wrote the song and registered the copyright before her.
But if the opposite happened (by coincidence of course, because I don't listen to Beyoncé...), I would be in huge trouble, because she's famous enough that it would be "assumed" that I had heard it somewhere and subconsciously stole it. This is putting the underdog at a HUGE disadvantage. Essentially, my copyright is less valid than Beyonce's because not as many people have heard my music. And apparently if plagarism is "accidental," it doesn't count...?
Okay, so back to the whole point of this post. And how everyone is breaking the law. Did you know it is not legal share a cover song in any way? (Except a live performance in an ASCAP/BMI licenced venue, of course.) This includes anything from a voice memo on your phone to videos of your live show, and of course sharing it anywhere online (youtube, soundcloud, your own personal website). It is not legal to give away a cover song for free. It's not legal to pull out your video camera and record your daughter sing some pop song at her voice recital. And sending that video to the grandparents? Illegal. Oh, and if that recording is in video form, you're breaking multiple laws. The reasoning for this is because even if you're giving it away for free, you're benefiting from the publicity.
P.S. Fun fact of the day: "Happy Birthday" is not in public domain, so all you people taking videos of your children blowing out their candles on their birthday...SHAME ON YOU.
Obviously, these laws are rarely enforced. Which is so unfair to those people who ARE spending thousands of dollars to obtain licenses for their cover songs, just to put them on youtube give them away for free and not make a cent off of them. I personally think an artist should be able to record and share a cover song without obtaining licenses, as long as they are not monetarily profiting from that song. I WANT everyone who wants to cover my music and share it for free to have that opportunity! If you're selling my music, then yes, please pay me royalies, that's fair. But I don't think I should have the right to charge you for the "publicity" you are getting from sharing a youtube video of you singing my song in your bedroom. Not to mention I am also getting publicity and benefiting from it.
So in conclusion, steal my chord progressions. Borrow my melodies. Grab a lyric or two. COVER MY SONGS. I'm not saying go upload my entire album to every torrent site, but music is meant to be shared. So go share it. :)