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Satriani’s copyright lawsuit against Coldplay & the non-reluctant witness

By December 10, 2008law practice

Joe Satriani recently sued Coldplay for copying one of his songs, and a few days later a guitar teacher, who seems to have a good handle on music theory, posts his musical analysis of whether Coldplay in fact copied. I’ll bet he gets contacted by Satriani’s attorney (since that’s whose side he seems to favor). If he does get subpoenaed he might be forced to testify, although I’m guessing he’d be entitled to fees as an expert witness. Either way, it’s the dawn of a new era when witnesses start offering samples of their potential testimony on the Internet for free.

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  • Vahn says:

    YES, a simple chord progression CAN be copyrighted!!! Intel did it for their little four chord composition at the end of all the computer commercials.Interested to see what happens here.

  • Yo Muse says:

    Um, I have perfect pitch, play in a major symphony orchestra, have studied at major conservatories, play several insruments professionally including piano, and have listened to and played all kinds of music for 5 decades. Viva La Vida is in the key of A flat major, and the chord progression is a classic (ii, V, I, vi). It has been used for centuries with great success in every kind of music–although its emotional effect would have been banned in ancient Western music. It can be supplemented with infinite grooves and lyrics and cannot be laid claim to by anyone. It is a universal chord progression that all musicians eventually discover. Coldplay has made particularly good use of it, and I applaud them for it.

  • IPguitar says:

    Sure, a chord progression would not alone establish copyright. Of course, many pop songs on the radio share the same progressions. But we nevertheless recognize them as uniquely identifiable “songs” because of their specific combination of musical ingredients– melody, harmony, and rhythm. The guitar teacher that analyzed the songs did a great job of breaking down the elements and pointing out a number of ingredients the songs had in common. The more common ingredients make it into the song, the less likely it seems like a coincidence and the more it looks like copying.

  • The number of people that would like to learn how to play the guitar is increasing.The fact is that it is really not all that difficult,but you need to learn how to read guitar tabs before you begin.This is really the foundation of any guitar classes that you are going to take,either at home or with an outside teacher.

  • Vincent says:

    He should have spelled the chords that were substituted…e minor is E G B and G Maj is G B D. They both share two out of three notes. Or he could have expressed G Maj as E-7 with the third in the bass and no root.

    Also, I hear the Coldplay tune in the key of A Major with the f minor chord as more of a pick up than a resolution. If you really wanted to geek out on it he is actually wrong calling either a minor key. Neither case has a leading tone (major seventh) which is arguably required to establish a key. If he felt the minor chords as roots he should call them in the Aeolian mode not a minor key. I do however hear the Satriani tune as a B Aeolian thing, maybe because it has twice as many minor chords, maybe because I grew up listenning to Satriani, Vai, Randy Rhoads and others who like to hang out in the modes of the major scale.

    If you didn’t fully understand the last paragraph don’t feel bad. I just re-read it and all that I got out of it was that: 1) I think I’m clever and 2) music theory is as subjective as any other interpretation of why some bit of human expression affects us the way it does.

    The defense should hire some nut to find all of the pieces of music that predate Satriani that have the same chord progression and likely a similar melody. I bet there are dozens of classical pieces that have the same four chords in that order in the same key and even more if you allow for the transposition.

    I think they both stole from Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced. The entire verse is one chord held out. Both of these songs hold out chords.

  • Matt Cheney says:

    I am finishing my graduate degree in music theory, and I just wanted to comment that the guitar teacher has the theory basics almost covered, but that is about it. I do not think that Mr. Satriani will prevail, however, I am not sure under which legal theories he has presented his case. If he pursues the melodic aspect I think he has a much better chance. In any case, I am wondering where I could find a copy of the actual complaint in order to read it.

    I am interested in what legal application the theories of music I study might have. For example, the guitar teacher states that the IV and VI chords are interchangable. What he is referring to is Riemann’s theory of harmonic function, whereby differing chord are equivalent in reference to the tonic triad. How would the law look at the two chord progressions? In Riemannian functunal terms, they absolutely are. But what judge or lawyer is going to know that? In any case, I am unsure if you can copywrite a progression, and if Satriani prevails on the progression, then most of western music history is a copywrite violation.

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