What constitutes musical plagiarism?

Posted on: March 19, 2015

On Wednesday (3/18) at New York radio station WQXR’s website, Naomi Lewin and Brian Wise speak with Los Angeles Times classical music critic Mark Swed and Lawrence Ferrara, a professor of music at New York University, about the implications of last week’s jury finding that “pop stars Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams copied Marvin Gaye’s 1977 song ‘Got to Give it Up’ in their song ‘Blurred Lines.’ The jury awarded the singer’s estate $7.4 million…. For Swed, ‘the tradition in music, in most musical traditions, is to build one thing on another. Rhythmic patterns, bass lines, and things like this are generally thought of as common property.’ Besides, Renaissance composers such as Josquin des Prez frequently built ‘paraphrase’ or ‘parody’ masses on preexisting Gregorian chants. J.S. Bach lifted entire from Vivaldi. Debussy quoted Wagner’s ‘Tristan’ chord…. Ferrara, however, believes that the rules around copyright enforcement are clear.… ‘Melody tends to be the meat in a copyright issue. That’s what gets you at the musical expression that’s ultimately the test of whether there’s ultimately been an infringement.’ ” A separate article in Tuesday’s (3/17) Wired magazine investigates the mathematical possibilities of reproducing a three-note melody.

Posted March 19, 2015