Columbia Law School Music Plagiarism Project
December 17, 2005 6:32 PM   Subscribe

The Columbia Law School Music Plagiarism Project is a repository of the music industry's most famous copyright infringement cases of the past 100 years. Each case contains links to samples of the original song and the alleged infringer, and there's even a song list for easy browsing. (My favorite: Gilbert O'Sullivan v. Biz Markie).
posted by Saucy Intruder (42 comments total)
 
This is not the worst post I have seen.
posted by y2karl at 6:41 PM on December 17, 2005


This is not?
posted by j-urb at 6:50 PM on December 17, 2005


So, John Lee Hooker sued Z.Z. Top, claiming Boogie Chillen was the source for La Grange and lost. Too bad he couldn't just copyright the riff. He wasn't the first guy to do it--I think Garefield Akers and Freddie Spruell recorded back before World War II--but he was the first to go electric, first to take it too a mass audience. But he was already a millionaire when he sued. That's interesting, too. This is cool.
posted by y2karl at 6:50 PM on December 17, 2005


Cool. Someone did all my mashup legwork for me.

*opens Garageband*
posted by sourwookie at 6:59 PM on December 17, 2005


Warning: bullshit realplayer required for listening.
posted by damnthesehumanhands at 7:02 PM on December 17, 2005


This is great.

Interesting, Z.Z. Top's "La Grange" ended up on both sides of the issue.
posted by Alison at 7:07 PM on December 17, 2005


I didn't realize that Clivilles and Cole got pounded for the samples in Get Dumb. That record has one of my all time favourite couplets:

The music's pumpin'
I'm Donald Trumpin'

I've always wondered what image the authors were trying to convey. Does it mean that they're wandering around the club, flashing a wad of cash to distract attention from their comb-over?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 7:07 PM on December 17, 2005


very cool link, thanks!
posted by jann at 7:10 PM on December 17, 2005


I love the editorializing:

ZZ Top was mainly capitalizing on the earthly, "black" style of the plaintiff's song in producing a slick, pumped-up version of this sound (mass marketed to middle class white men but copyright does not offer protection from such capitalizations.
posted by furtive at 7:15 PM on December 17, 2005


damnthesehumanhands: Real Alternative gives you the .rm without the bs.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 7:25 PM on December 17, 2005


My favorite suit of all time is here: Fantasy v. Fogerty, in which Fantasy Records sues John Fogerty because the song "The Old Man Down the Road", written by John Fogerty, is too similar to the song "Run Through the Jungle", written by, yup, John Fogerty. John Fogerty was sued for plagiarising from himself. He won, by the way.
posted by TimeFactor at 7:28 PM on December 17, 2005


McKinley Morganfield == Muddy Waters
Calvin Broadus == Snoop Doggy Dog
Stevland Morris == Stevie Wonder
posted by furtive at 7:34 PM on December 17, 2005


The Snoop Dogg vs. Marley Marl case is interesting as well. Marley Marl sues Snoop because he releases a record called Ghetto Symphony, which seems substantially similar to a record of his called The Symphony.

However, the similarity seems to be grounded solely in the fact that both of them rely almost entirely on looping the first two bars of Otis Redding's 'Hard To Handle'.

I always preferred the Tony Joe White version myself though.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 7:36 PM on December 17, 2005


I Love New York vs I Love Sodom
posted by furtive at 7:37 PM on December 17, 2005


Oh, and Theme from ET is just a rehash of Princess Leia's Theme so John Williams should have sued himself.

I'm really loving this site.
posted by furtive at 7:44 PM on December 17, 2005


Here's another short list. I'm surprised -- I can't find the Allan Klein action against Richard Ashcroft and The Verve.
posted by dhartung at 7:57 PM on December 17, 2005


Justice Souter talking about 2 Live Crew's particular style of rap is why I love reading copyright cases.
posted by Pacheco at 8:10 PM on December 17, 2005


In regards to my previous comments about John Williams, I am now offering to eat my own hat:

John Fogarty v John Fogarty
posted by furtive at 8:18 PM on December 17, 2005


Bookmarked. Testimony skimmed is fascinating.
posted by kozad at 8:19 PM on December 17, 2005


It seems likely that what prompted the plaintiff to pursue this case was the fact that Jackson’s song had the same title as one she claims to have written. We will probably never know whether the song “Dangerous” that the plaintiff claims to have written prior to Jackson’s writing his song with the same name, was musically similar to Jackson’s because the plaintiff was unable to produce a copy of her song in question! Apparently the song existed only as an audio recording and the plaintiff could not produce a copy on which to base her claim.

Wow. You can just show up in court with some shit like, "I got a song with the same titile! That shit is mine!"
posted by The Jesse Helms at 8:50 PM on December 17, 2005


Who could have known that in 1973 the Southern District of New York legally defined "MOJO?" That alone is worth the hour already shot browsing through this wonderful site. Thanks, Saucy!
posted by Opposite George at 8:51 PM on December 17, 2005


I always knew a few Ben Harper tracks sounded similar to my own stuff- hey buddy, c'mere!
posted by The Jesse Helms at 8:51 PM on December 17, 2005


John Fogarty v John Fogarty

This is an excellent example of why copyrights should never, ever be transferable.
posted by odinsdream at 8:58 PM on December 17, 2005


This is an excellent example of why copyrights should never, ever be transferable.

Ah, but that would destroy the "property" value of intellectual property. If you owned a piece of land that you were never allowed to sell, the value of that land would plummet. Same with copyrighted works.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 9:02 PM on December 17, 2005


Justice Souter talking about 2 Live Crew's particular style of rap is why I love reading copyright cases.

Oh wow. Which case is that?
posted by gsteff at 9:38 PM on December 17, 2005


Ah, but that would destroy the "property" value of intellectual property. If you owned a piece of land that you were never allowed to sell, the value of that land would plummet. Same with copyrighted works.

Not so! Land can't be copied. Actually, I believe some European countries, including France, dictate that certain of the rights normally bundled together as "copyright" are nontransferrable, such as the right to attribution, and the right to withdraw the work from circulation.
posted by gsteff at 9:47 PM on December 17, 2005


True, gsteff, but although the French droit d'suite retains moral and residual rights with the creator, it doesn't affect the basic bundle of rights associated with § 106.

BTW, the 2 Live Crew case is Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, 510 U.S. 569 (1994).
posted by Saucy Intruder at 10:10 PM on December 17, 2005


Who could have known that in 1973 the Southern District of New York legally defined "MOJO?"

For me, the money quote there was, "A person approaching a crisis, such as an examination at school, would be sure to have his MOJO with him, and working."
posted by MrBadExample at 10:17 PM on December 17, 2005


Ah, but that would destroy the "property" value of intellectual property. If you owned a piece of land that you were never allowed to sell, the value of that land would plummet. Same with copyrighted works.

I can't tell if you're being serious or not. In case you are, though...

Intellectual property is a term that doesn't really mean anything. It causes the confusion that your comment exemplifies. There are distinct differences between physical property and copyrightable works. That's why we have such a thing as copyright, and another such thing as property law. These two pieces of our law deal with different things, and they deal with them differently.

It's my opinion that the ability to "sell" your copyright in a work is bad, as in bad for society, because it goes against the reason copyright was made law. Copyrights are supposed to expire, too. The current copyright system we have is a sad bastardization of the original vision.
posted by odinsdream at 10:44 PM on December 17, 2005


Ah, but that would destroy the "property" value of intellectual property. If you owned a piece of land that you were never allowed to sell, the value of that land would plummet. Same with copyrighted works.

Um, if you owned a piece of land that you were never allowed to sell, wouldn't the concept of monetary "value" not make any sense in relation to that land?

If copyrights weren't transferable, their "value" would plummet to zero, in the sense that nobody would be able to buy them for any price.

(On the other hand, you could still rent the land/sell copies of the music... how would nontransferability affect the value of that?)
posted by revfitz at 10:50 PM on December 17, 2005


Guess that doesn't eally cover the Waits v. Frito-Lay, Inc. as there was no song copyright issue
posted by edgeways at 10:51 PM on December 17, 2005


odinsdream, have you been to law school? I ask because you have completely misstated the point of intellectual property. The reason we have copyright as a distinct right from the ownership interest in real property is because while harm to real property arises from an actual invasion onto the land (i.e. in the case of nuisance or trespass), the harm to intellectual property manifests itself in a type of misappropriation that doesn't change the characteristics of that which is appropriated.

Copyrights, like real property, contracts, and financial instruments, are assets which derive much of their value from the associated legal rights. Suppose I own the contractual right to have 200 widgets delivered, but I don't need any widgets. The smart thing to do would be to sell my right to receive widgets to the widget company in exchange for money or some other valuable consideration. But if the contract says I can't assign my right to receive widgets, the value of the contract diminishes greatly. I'm going to have to absorb the risk of low demand or low price when I try to unload my widgets to someone else. I have the burden to litigate in court if you don't ship my widgets on time. And I have to find space for them in my warehouse.

In short, one of the essential features of any asset is its alienability. The same goes with intellectual property. If I write a book, I own the copyright and I have a right to license my § 106 rights to others. But suppose I don't want to take the risk that my book won't sell very many copies, or just don't want to deal with the administrative hassles. The rights were born with my creation, and I should have the ability to dispose of these legal privileges in exchange for cash. If I can't do that, what is the point of a legal right at all?

On preview: revfitz, your land would still have value in the sense that you can rent it (and by analogy, your nontransferable copyright would have value in the sense that you can license it.) But without alienability there is no true asset value.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 11:05 PM on December 17, 2005


Two things strike me, while browsing the site:
1) Notwithstanding the merits of the case, the courts were wrong on moral grounds to suppress such an obvious masterpiece as "Cunnilingus Champion of Company C" (scroll down).
2) A web site about copyright law that includes clips of movies that have little to do with the issue at hand (and are presumably owned by somebody else) is little ironic.
posted by AndrewStephens at 11:35 PM on December 17, 2005


,em> Justice Souter talking about 2 Live Crew's particular style of rap is why I love reading copyright cases.

No foolin'! After reading that opinion I'm convinced that however much we pay our Supreme Court it's peanuts in exchange for the contributions they make to comedy and the raptastic arts.
posted by Opposite George at 2:04 AM on December 18, 2005


No "I Want A New Drug" vs "Ghostbusters"?
posted by poppo at 6:14 AM on December 18, 2005


SI: In short, one of the essential features of any asset is its alienability.

This statement stipulates its conclusions. I'll narrow the discussion to IP in particular since that's what we're on about, but basically you're fudging the concepts of "alienability is an essential feature of the current copyright regime" and "alienability is a necessary feature for any IP regime to fulfill its stated policies," while these are in fact quite seperate. Certainly the valuations of copyrighted works would change if we were to change the entitlements granted by a copyright, but this fact does not a prior demonstrate that alienability is "essential."

Besides, as a copyright scholar you know very well that the current state of the law is more nuanced. What about the inalienable visual artists' rights in 17 USC § 106A? Termination of transfer rules in § 203? Odinsdream's post may not have been replete with code citations, but his intuition is not totally foreign even to the current copyright law: in some ways we tend to think that rights in a work ought to be vested in the artist per se, and not merely function as tools of commerce.
posted by rkent at 8:38 AM on December 18, 2005


a priori.

No better way to make yourself look like a pretentious jackass than to misspell your Latin phrases.
posted by rkent at 8:40 AM on December 18, 2005


As for Got My Mojo Working, Ann Cole was the first to record it.

His first antagonist was Muddy Waters, who also claimed to have written "Mojo" and put our a version on Chess Records the same week as Cole's version on Baton..
.
According to Sandra Tooze's just-published Waters biography, "The Mojo Man," Waters was on tour with Cole and appropriated the song after hearing her sing it...Eventually the matter went to court, where it was ruled that Foster was indeed the composer -- although "Mojo" sometimes still shows up credited to Waters

"Preston Foster is one of the shyest human beings I've ever met," Rabinowitz says. "One time we were in the midst of a lawsuit with this terrible woman from California who claimed she owned 'Mojo,' and we wound up in federal court. She was trying to bribe people. It was awful. Preston was supposed to testify and after my lawyer met him, he said, 'We're gonna have to do something else. We can't put this guy on the stand.' We won that case anyway.

"Every six months I send Preston a check. He's basically still making a living from this song, which still earns $20,000 to $30,000 a year. I would guess it's been recorded by 150 or 200 artists, from Elvis Presley to Jimmy Smith. It's been done overseas a lot, too. I just received a CD from my Swedish licensee. One of the top blues singers in Sweden just recorded it with Swedish lyrics, and it's great."


Elvis did it ? Man, I missed that. Must've been one of those concert recordings.

Internet legend Catherine Yronwode of Lucky Mojo was the definitive take linked on her Blues Lyrics and Hoodoo page.

I magine Ann Cole's feelings were similar to Irma Thomas's after the Stones covered Time Is On My Side.
posted by y2karl at 10:01 AM on December 18, 2005


rkent: What about the inalienable visual artists' rights in 17 USC § 106A?

VARA rights are "inalienable" in the sense that you can't sell moral rights, but you can fully waive your moral rights by agreement. The effect is the same - you no longer hold a legal right in that particular interest. In fact, it's widely acknowledged that VARA is being rendered a nullity by the fact that galleries and other sophisticated art buyers are putting boilerplate VARA waivers in their standard agreements.

You certainly could have a copyright regime that restricts the right of alienation, as many civil law countries do. This is hardly an efficient allocation of resources, and as I've said before, it devalues the intellectual property asset itself. Refer back to the John Fogerty case - suppose that, instead of a jury finding that he didn't infringe on the earlier work, the court found as a matter of law that there was a certain "character" to Fogerty's composition style that was so essential to his musicianship that he couldn't possibly have alienated those rights when he sold those songs to Fantasy Records.

Now, perhaps such a result is morally and legally defensible. But the next time a Michael Jackson or a Paul McCartney wants to sell his catalog to Sony or Columbia, the offer price will tank, since Sony would not have a full interest in the suite of legal rights accompanying the catalog. So what happens? Either McCartney has to wait until he's dead, or at least too old and sick to write and perform in his unique style, before he can recapture the full value of his catalog. This is a grossly inefficient result. Full alienability supports the notion that artists, like anyone else, can relinquish legal rights in exchange for compensation. Arguably, this goes further to "support the progress of science and the useful arts" than a regime which stifles innovation by forcing an author to wait until his death to recapture the full value of his authorship.

(Of course, we assume equal bargaining power. In the VARA example, there's a valid policy argument against waiver, since institutional buyers always have the upper hand in negotiations against struggling artists.)
posted by Saucy Intruder at 11:27 AM on December 18, 2005


"John Fogarty v John Fogarty"

This is an excellent example of why copyrights should never, ever be transferable.


Ah, but what about vowels?
posted by dhartung at 11:50 AM on December 18, 2005


Great link. Still plowing through it. Thanks.
posted by cribcage at 8:25 PM on December 18, 2005


Saucy Intruder; no, of course I'm not a lawyer. I'm just discussing this with as much understanding of law as I have. Surely you don't believe one has to have gone to law school in order to intelligently discuss something, right?

Here's the thing, we apparently have differing definitions of "efficiency." In my mind, a copyright system that allows Fogarty v Fogarty is inefficient, because it's wasting resources on the absurd. It's absurd in my opinion because we all know, no matter what the law says, that John Fogarty created the song. The company he sold it to didn't create it, even if they're legally the "authors." The fact that the law doesn't recognize this is a flaw.

I'm not arguing that someone shouldn't be allowed to license their works completely to another entity, but I am arguing that someone should be incapable of selling their authorship itself. I see the authorship of a work and the work itself as one and the same. Obviously, the law does not. I'm not trying to have a discussion about what the law says, I'm just explaining what my feelings are on the matter, and how I'd like to see the law work.

When I create something, that thing has value because I can control the use of that thing under our laws. That's great, it encourages people to create similar, but not identical things, in order to compete with me. It also allows people with more resources than I have to buy a license from me to use my creation, for instance to make a movie based on my idea. That also encourages growth and creation.

What stifles growth is the ability to sell one's authorship, like what Fogarty did. This gets you into a mess, especially with regard to copyright term extensions. When copyrights don't die in a predictable manner, progress of science and useful arts is stymied.
posted by odinsdream at 8:53 AM on December 19, 2005


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