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Musical plagiarism is a serious offense

On Behalf of | Dec 18, 2019 | Copyright Law

If there is anything that can sour your mood as a musician, it’s seeing someone else take your work as their own. You work hard to put together unique chord arrangements and lyrics. You compose your work carefully, and it’s a reflection of your experiences.

Unfortunately, musical plagiarism isn’t that uncommon in the music industry. It can be hard to stop people from sampling work, and it might be difficult to prove plagiarism over common chord arrangements. If you ask anyone in the industry, they’ll tell you that there is a fine line between stealing someone’s work and being inspired by it.

If a re-appropriated sample or sound is taken without permission and used to create a song, then it is normally considered to be theft. For example, if you hear the intro to a famous song by Queen, “We Are The Champions” there’s little question that it’s a unique intro specifically from this band’s album. If another person uses that intro in a similar way but does not gain permission to use the sampled piece, then they can be accused of plagiarism and may be taken to court.

There is no safe amount of a song to use before you can be accused of plagiarism

There is a harmful myth in the music industry that you can use six, or even eight or 12, bars of a song before it will be considered plagiarism. After all, there are only so many different ways to arrange the same chords. The truth is that this myth isn’t true at all. If you have clearly taken a sample from a song without permission and it can be matched up with the original song, then you could find yourself embroiled in a lawsuit. Similarly, if you see your song has been used, you may be able to pursue a lawsuit yourself.

It may be more difficult to build a lawsuit on background chords, though, because there are some common chord sequences used throughout music. It’s easier to pursue lawsuits against those who sample melodies, which are less likely to be similar to others used in the past. Stealing specific lyrics may also create a case of plagiarism that a band, singer or songwriter could pursue a claim for.

If your music is stolen, know that you can speak with your attorney about taking steps to ask the other musician to remove the work from sale or to find ways to get the compensation you deserve.