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June 9th, 2009
06:51 AM ET

Guitarist sues Coldplay, YouTubers compare songs

From CNN's Carol Costello and Ronni Berke

Coldplay's “Viva La Vida” is more than just their biggest hit – it's a phenomenon – selling a whopping 6.8 million copies, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry. Guitarist Joe Satriani has filed a lawsuit claiming copyright infringement, saying the mega-band copied his song “If I Could Fly,” from 2004, to create their mega-hit. In court documents, Coldplay has denied those allegations.

Satriani, famous himself in the world of rock – now plays in the band, Chickenfoot, with Sammy Hagar. Hagar lays on the sarcasm in support of Satriani. “I was shocked to that Joe would steal that song from those guys,” Hagar said. “Joe you just took and erased the singing and the lyrics and made an instrumental out of it.” “And somehow, I did it four years earlier,” Satriani quipped.

The case has captured the imagination of YouTubers all over the world – most of whom are more than eager to prove Satriani right. One posting, a note-by-note analysis, by a Canadian guitar teacher has gotten nearly 700,000 hits. Then there are the “mash-ups,” where YouTubers put Coldplay's lyrics over Joe Satriani's guitar riff. Some of this stuff is so cleverly done it's gotten the attention of Satriani's attorney.

“What is fascinating about YouTube is you get 1,000 good ideas as a lawyer you could adopt and use in court,” attorney Howard King says.

But, musicologists, like Prince Charles Alexander, who's produced records for Mary J. Blige and Usher, say mash-ups can be deceiving. “You don’t pick up the guitar and invent music. You actually are inspired by someone else that played,” says Alexander, who teaches at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. “So you as an outsider who are mashing these two records up and saying "Wow look how similar they are," are actually looking at a process that's been going on for a very long time.” Alexander says you can mash-up many well known and make them sound the same.

Coldplay’s lawyer told us the band can’t comment on pending litigation. However, Coldplay front man Chris Martin wrote on the band's website, it was, "initially a bit depressing" but now it’s “inspiring." And he adds: “Now we've got more to prove than ever before.”

Filed under: Entertainment
soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. InfernalDisaster

    Personally I think both should have resolved this without the courts.

    Satriani should have toned down the rehetoric and Coldplay should have been willing to discuss this matter.

    This may still be settled out at some point (at least I hope).

    July 10, 2009 at 2:12 pm |
  2. InfernalDisaster

    Most people arguing this, argue from the emotionally retarded view of who they do or don't like.

    The law doesn't care whose better or more popular.

    All music is derived from inspiration, so similarities are common in music (esp of the same genre). It only becomes a big deal when a song becomes a big hit and everyone wants a piece of the pie.

    There are similarities (a riff) in both songs song, but the songs are also very different.

    It will be difficult to prove Coldplay purposely tried to steal something from Satriani, as it is possible for two people come up with a similar "riff." In fact many riffs have become popular and highly used in music.

    In the end courts will listen to both songs and decide if Coldplay purposely violated copyright laws (which is unlikely) and whether or not the songs are unique to each author. Similarities can exist in music without copyright violation.

    July 10, 2009 at 12:55 pm |
  3. Paul

    "Calling it a rip-off means that you know that Coldplay knowingly copied parts of the melody. That part, even if true, would be hard to prove in court."

    How about the words of Christ Martin himself? He's said before that they knowing steal from others – from Rolling Stone interviews:

    "Martin loves technology as much as Kip Dynamite — he and the band have spent hours on their computers referencing their favorite works, for their own sordid purposes."We can be working on something and go, ‘We should steal this from My Bloody Valentine and this from Rammstein and this from Jay-Z’s first album, and then listen to this classical piece by Holst,'" he says. "It’s a plagiarist’s paradise. We used to just be able to steal off Radiohead. Now we can steal off everybody.'"
    “We’re definitely good, but I don’t think you can say we’re that original,” he notes. “I regard us as being incredibly good plagiarists."
    Or regarding their song “Fix You”, mentioned as being a copy of Elbow’s “Grace Under Pressure”, guitarist Jonny Buckland had this to say:

    “We’ve never so directly stolen off anyone before. We’ve never paid for our plagiarism.”

    Coldplay could easily find themselves in hot water simply because they stole from others, and didn't shut up about it. They've admitted to doing it in the past, and even called it plagiarism, not "being inspired by".

    June 10, 2009 at 12:31 am |
  4. atn

    Calling it a rip-off means that you know that Colplay knowingly copied parts of the melody. That part, even if true, would be hard to prove in court.

    On the other hand, the fact that many bands have and still are pointing the finger at Coldplay on similar issues gives more weight to the allegations being true.

    Either way, name-calling either in Satriani's or Colplay's direction remains a bad argument.

    Personally, I am a fan of Colplay (and was a fan of Satriani in the early 90s), I'm a university trained musician, and I think that there are great similarities between the two songs melodies.

    June 9, 2009 at 5:26 pm |
  5. atn

    Coldplay doesn't sit well with many indie rock bands because some feel their ideas (e.g. melodies) were ripped by them (see for example the Brooklyn band Creaky Boards).

    Case in point, rumors have it that the song Talk, from Coldplay's X&Y, was originally sold as a Colplay song. After some people pointed out that the main melody was a blatant note for note copy of the song Computer Love by German band Kraftwerk, Colplay changed their story and said that the song was some sort of tribute to the German band.

    What surprised me the most was to see the tv coverage CNN gave of the story (on June 9th 2009). Both reporters seemed clearly biased in Coldplay's favor, they also implied that Satriani, like many others, were simply out there to profit from another artists fame.

    Their points ridiculed the fact that to an artist, plagiarism is something very difficult to swallow. Imagine you created an awesome invention only to see someone take it, change the colors, and sell it as his own.

    June 9, 2009 at 5:18 pm |
  6. Kenneth K.

    Emily Mitchell is only partly correct ... the tune "Ah vous dirai ..." already existed when Mozart wrote his piano variations ... in fact his title refers to it as "ein franzosiches Lied" (A French song). So Mozart ALSO did not write Twinkle-ABCD-Bah bah black sheep" but he had a lot of fun with it!

    June 9, 2009 at 12:29 pm |
  7. Paulette

    Satriani's a has-been and Hagar's a never-was. They're just trying to get people to remember who they are. With a little electronic savvy, you can make a mash-up "prove" anything you want. I'm sure Coldplay's lawyers will call up equally savvy "experts" to disprove Satriani's claims. There are a finite number of musical notes and chords, so similarities are inevitable.

    A lot of the YouBoobers are playing the Coldplay backlash game and are willing to do/believe anything negative about the band. Get a life!

    June 9, 2009 at 9:50 am |
  8. George T

    If you take Satriani's guitar hook line of (F#-G-E) ie: same melodic progression as the coldplay vocal line of "rule the world", out of his song, and this is a total non-event. Sorry Joe, 2 bars does not plagarism make, but you will be receiving some royalties as many listen to a song they would otherwise never have heard of.
    Great guitar though!

    June 9, 2009 at 9:26 am |
  9. James

    Mr. Alexander is correct, this process has been going on for a long time. Our national anthem, "The Star Spangled Banner" is set to the tune of a British drinking song, "The Anacreontic Song". This was not an unusual practice for the day, songs were often set to a popular tune.

    June 9, 2009 at 9:12 am |
  10. Emily Mitchell

    The melodic theme used for "Twinkle, twinkle", "ABCDEFG...", and "Bah, bah blacksheep" was originally written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart from his 12 Variations for Piano, Ah! Vous dirai-je, Maman, K265, first publication in 1761.

    June 9, 2009 at 9:11 am |
  11. Pax

    Twinkle, twinkle little star and the ABC song aren't plagiarized because A) their old folk tunes that were in existence before people were obsessed with making money off of music and B) no one's made millions of dollars from these little ditties.

    The similarities between the Coldplay and Satriani songs are more than curious and more than coincidence. It's not the first time plagiarism charges have been made against Coldplay and not the first time the accusations seem very real. Where there's smoke, there's fire.

    June 9, 2009 at 9:01 am |